Preview: Rebels v Blues

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Thursday, May 7, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 8 May at 9.40pm
AAMI Stadium, Melbourne

Played: 3, 2011-2013 (DNP 2014)
Rebels wins: 1
Blues wins: 2

Rebels points: 89
Blues points: 99

Last match: Blues 36 Rebels 32, 11.05.13 in Auckland

Round 13 teams:

Form: The Rebels, especially considering their status as one of the youngest teams in the competition, are in the form of their life – all the well-deserved hype and applauding that occurred when they defeated the Chiefs last weekend hid a small fact.

That was their fifth win (and third in four), so victory against the three-time champions would give the Melbourne based side a new regular season winning record, while they are striving for one more.

Three wins from four matches in 2015 against New Zealand Conference teams.

Defensively they were magnificent against the Chiefs, and if they can continue that effort they could keep in touch with the top six, although the Blues 11 tries in their last three matches suggests a team beginning to find some touch that will not roll over.

Yes it has been a tough season, but a 19-24 aggregate over 11 games shows that Sir John Kirwan’s troops never drop their heads, while six defensive bonus points ensure that the Blues could climb up the table to finish with pride.

Their twenty-one tries lag behind the leaders, often a great barometer of how well the men from Auckland are doing, which would frustrate the Blues attack planners - they have beaten 232 defenders, better than any other team.

Key players: The responsibility on Mitch Inman’s big shoulders at second five-eighth will be immense considering Tamati Ellison is missing from the match day squad due to general soreness, no doubt due to his efforts against the giant Chiefs midfield.

Dom Shipperley doesn’t have the defensive steel of the former All Black he replaces, but he will bring more speed to the Rebels attack.

Scott Higginbotham has become a beacon for the Rebels forwards, while their tight five is beginning to shine, even if the likes of Lopeti Timani and Pat Leafa would likely be embarrassed if you gave them too much praise – even if they are embarrassing some high profile opposites.

The Blues won’t have the services of Jerome Kaino or Charles Piutau, and by individual stats, the tourists have lost two of their more influential players.

Steven Luatau dons the eight jersey and the captain’s armband, while the continued brilliance of Akira Ioane will be needed to combat what looks to be a pacey Melbourne forward unit.

Ihaia West hasn’t been as influential, naturally, as he was during last year’s ITM Cup, but he has a chance to showcase his well-known skillset.

Culum Retallick and Angus Taavao-Matau have been tireless in the tight five, but if it all starts up front, All Blacks veterans Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu will want granite like displays.

Squad update: Rebels Head Coach Tony McGahan has named Tom English, Colby Fainga’a and Mike Harris to start, as the Blues head to AAMI Park in Round 13 of the 2015 Asteron Life Super Rugby competition.

Fainga’a replaces Sean McMahon, who after a bang on his hip and a heavy schedule this year gets a rest, while Harris resumes his starting spot at fullback, after being a late withdrawal last week with a corked thigh.

McGahan was pleased to also welcome Scott Fuglistaller back into the squad for the visit of the Blues.

West will return at first-five while Dan Bowden stays behind due to a groin injury.

Lolagi Visinia will move back to fullback and Tevita Li moves to the wing. Luke Braid joins Kaino and Piutau on the sidelines.

There are also potential debuts off the bench for Greg Pleasants-Tate and Joe Edwards. Simon Hickey will also be looking for his first game of the season.