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Rebels ready for back-row 'battle' against Waratahs

By AAP
(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Melbourne are preparing for a back-row battle for the ages in their Super Rugby Pacific shoot-out against the NSW Waratahs, as they hunt their first win.

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The Rebels vowed in pre-season to get off to a better start after their campaign last year was effectively derailed when they opened with five straight losses.

But having suffered two tight defeats this year and a daunting trip to New Zealand to tackle the Chiefs yet to come, a win over the Waratahs is crucial.

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The back-rows of both the Rebels and Waratahs shone in their Super Round matches last week, with Melbourne assistant Tim Sampson predicting it will be a key area at AAMI Park on Friday night.

The Rebels have Namibian international Richard Hardwick, who scored two tries in the 39-33 loss to the Hurricanes, at No.8 while Josh Kemeny and skipper Brad Wilkin are the flankers.

NSW, who downed the Drua, boast rising Test star Langi Gleeson at No.8, ex-Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper at openside flanker and hardnut Lachlan Swinton at No.6.

Sampson said both teams would look to impose their physicality over the ball.

“The Waratahs are a physical side, they’re very good through their forwards, especially their back five, they’ve got a high work rate but so have we,” he said.

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“Our forwards have been going exceptionally well the first couple of rounds and we know what the challenge is, we’re very clear on what we have to do to combat their strengths and also, importantly, play to our strengths.

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“It will be a really good battle through the back-row, there’s quality players on both teams.”

The Rebels started strongly against the Western Force but fell away, while they reversed that pattern against the Hurricanes, rallying from 24-6 down.

Sampson said the challenge was to deliver a consistent 80-minute performance.

“It was a pretty, pleasing second-half performance against the Hurricanes, but it was mixed emotions.

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“We created some nice opportunities and would have liked to finish a few more of those on the back-end of some nice line breaks.

“The biggest takeaway was just consistency through two halves of footy.”

The Waratahs have been boosted by the announcement lock-cum-back-rower Jed Holloway has re-signed with Australian rugby until at least the end of 2025.

A late bloomer, the 30-year-old made his Test debut in the Wallabies’ gutsy win over Argentina in Mendoza last year and went on to earn 10 caps.

Set to play in this year’s Rugby World Cup in France, Holloway said it was an easy decision to recommit.

“For me, it was a no-brainer, I’ve loved every minute since I’ve come back from Japan, and it’s an incredibly exciting time here for the Waratahs and Australian Rugby,” Holloway said.

“We made a lot of progress last year at the Waratahs and I think we’re building something special at the Wallabies as well.”

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