Melbourne Rebels vice-captain Sam Talakai says his Super Rugby side didn’t skip a beat when told star halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper weren’t starting against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Despite the clash being a last-gasp chance to secure a maiden finals berth, Genia will miss the match under the Wallabies Test rotation policy while Cooper will start off the bench for the first time this season.
Even without finals riding on the result, the Crusaders present a formidable challenge as defending champions, runaway competition leaders and unbeaten at home in their past 27 games.
But Talakai said his team had full faith in their new halves combination with Wallabies recruit Matt Toomua getting his first crack at the Rebels No.10 jersey alongside Michael Ruru.
“We talk about having a squa d mentality – whoever gets a call on the team list has to step up and we believe in that next guy.”
The Rebels acknowledge they were out-muscled and out-smarted at the breakdown by the NSW Waratahs in their disappointing five point loss last round.
Talakai said the Crusaders, who have veteran All Black Matt Todd returning at openside flanker, presented a slightly different challenge but one that they were ready for.
“They push the boundaries a lot, like all good Kiwi teams do,” Talakai said.
“We’ve worked on small tactics that we can hopefully put on them to get some clean ball for our backs.”
With two games remaining the Rebels must win at least one to keep their play-off hopes alive but Talakai said his team wasn’t feeling the pressure and rather felt privileged to be in such a position.
He said that rather than talking about results they were focused on playing well.
Despite their commanding lead on the overall Super Rugby ladder the Crus aders have only won two of their last five matches.
Talakai said the Rebels couldn’t be pointing any fingers that their opponents were vulnerable.
“They’ve had a few slips but we are looking in our own backyard – we’ve had a few slips too so we are working on our own game and how we can be better.”
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