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Rebels make seven changes for Crusaders

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Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has named a team with seven changes to the side that lost to the Stormers for Saturday’s match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Injuries have played a part in the changes and Hooker James Hanson, flyhalf Jack Debreczeni and winger Tom English are the only three players to retain their positions from last week.

The Rebels will however make history as McGahan has named two Victorians in the 23-player team for the first time in the club’s history with the inclusions of Sione Tuipulotu and Rob Leota

Tuipulotu, who has made four appearances for the Rebels, will make his first start since his debut against the Reds in Round 3 while the uncapped Leota is a step closer to making his Super Rugby debut after being named on the bench for the first time in his career.

Injury has forced Rebels coach Tony McGahan to make comprehensive changes to the 23-player team for the club’s penultimate game against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

A total seven changes have been made to the starting 15 with captain Nic Stirzaker, Laurie Weeks, Adam Thomson and Mike Harris returning from injury while Sam Jeffries, Culum Retallick and Tuipulotu have been promoted.

Retallick will make his run-on debut for the Rebels, Weeks returns to the starting line up for the first time after a hamstring injury sidelined the prop since Round 9 and Jeffries makes his third career Super Rugby start.

After starting the last two games at Tighthead, Toby Smith returns to Loosehead Prop while Colby Fainga’a moves to flanker alongside Jordy Reid as Thomson starts at No.8.

Stirzaker and Harris, both unavailable for the Stormers game with ankle injuries, return to scrumhalf and fullback, respectively, with Reece Hodge shifted to Inside Centre and Sefa Naivalu to the right wing.

Sean McMahon will miss his first Rebels game since Round 13 2015 while locks Luke Jones and Lopeti Timani have failed to overcome first-half concussions sustained last weekend.

“The inclusion of Sione and Rob is a historic milestone for the Melbourne Rebels and a fitting reward for the hard work of everyone behind the scenes in Victorian Rugby to develop local talent,” McGahan said.

“Unfortunately injuries have been the story of our season, which has made weekly team selection a challenge throughout the year, but it continues to provide opportunities for others.

“Numbers were touch and go at the start of the week but we’re pleased to welcome back a wealth of experience in Nic, Laurie, Adam and Mike for arguably the hardest road trip in Super Rugby against the Crusaders.”

Paul Asquith has retained his spot on the bench after making his debut last weekend and Steve Cummins has been included as a reserve for the first time since Round 2 against the Bulls in Pretoria.

The Rebels claimed their only victory on New Zealand soil with a 20-10 win when they last met the Crusaders across the Tasman – the only Australian side to claim victory in Christchurch in 12 years.

The two sides are evenly poised with the Rebels and Crusaders, who sit in second position in the New Zealand Conference and are still competing for a finals berth, splitting the four previous results.

Melbourne Rebels

1. Toby Smith , 2. James Hanson , 3. Laurie Weeks , 4. Sam Jeffries , 5. Culum Retallick , 6. Jordy Reid , 7. Colby Fainga’a , 8. Adam Thomson , 9. Nic Stirzaker (captain) , 10. Jack Debreczeni , 11. Tom English , 12. Reece Hodge , 13. Sione Tuipulotu , 14. Sefa Naivalu , 15. Mike Harris

Replacements : 16. Pat Leafa , 17. Cruze Ah Nau , 18. Jamie Hagan , 19. Steve Cummins , 20. Rob Leota* , 21. Ben Meehan , 22. Paul Asquith , 23. Jonah Placid

*Uncapped

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