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PREVIEW: Rebels v Blues

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017    allblacks.com    Getty Images

ROUND 1: Rebels v Blues, 9.45pm (NZT), Thursday 23 February, AAMI Park, Melbourne

TALE OF THE TAPE
There was little to separate the teams on the ladder last year with the Blues finishing 11th and the Rebels 12th. The signs are ominous for the Blues with the Rebels winning their last four season opening clashes and the home side winning the last five matches between the teams. 

QUICK TAP: BLUES 2017 TEAM PREVIEW

NEW SKIPPER
Jimmy Tupou will pull on the captain’s arm band in his first appearance for the Blues. After 37 appearances for the Crusaders and leading Counties Manukau in the Mitre 10 Cup over the past couple of seasons, Tupou has built a reputation as a ‘lead from the front’ skipper. He will be in familiar territory with his co-captain at Counties Manukau, Augustine Pulu, also making his Blues debut.

POWER PACKED BENCH

While their starting line-up looks strong, the Blues also pack plenty of punch on their bench. All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Ofa Tu’ungafasi have been bracketed as front row cover while Rene Ranger and George Moala are set to bolster the backline. Ranger had an injury-interrupted 2016 and will be eager to make an impact. Moala’s stock rose last season and is now regarded in the top bracket of midfielders in the country.

RAPID RIEKO
Last season was a rapid ascent for dynamic midfielder Rieko Ioane. The 19-year-old started the season in the All Blacks Sevens team and finished the year in the All Blacks. In the sevens game, Ioane was a star with his power and pace. In fifteens, Ioane showed an even greater skill set as he switched between wing and centre. If Ioane starts with an impressive performance against the Rebels he can make the number thirteen jersey his own.

LOOSE FORWARD TUSSLE
The battle at ruck time will be tantalising as two equally skilful and powerful loose forward trios square off. In Steven Luatua and Akira Ioane, the Blues boast two powerful ball runners while Blake Gibson is a classical openside flanker. The Rebels answer back with the dynamic trio of Japanese international Amanaki Mafi, Colby Fainga’a and Jordy Reid.

TEAMS
Rebels: 15. Jack Debreczeni 14. Jack Maddocks 13. Mitch Inman 12. Reece Hodge 11. Tom English 10. Jackson Garden-Bachop 9. Nic Stirzaker (c) 8. Amanaki Mafi 7. Colby Fainga'a 6. Jordy Reid 5. Lopeti Timani 4. Steve Cummins 3. Laurie Weeks 2. Pat Leafa 1. Cruze Ah-Nau

Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Tom Moloney, Tyrel Lomax, Culum Retallick, Jake Schatz, Ben Meehan, Sione Tuipulotu, Jonah Placid

Blues: 15: Michael Collins 14: Matt Duffie 13: Rieko Ioane 12: Piers Francis 11: Melani Nanai, 10: Ihaia West 9: Augustine Pulu 8: Akira Ioane 7: Blake Gibson, 6: Steven Luatua 5: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti 4: Jimmy Tupou (C) 3: Sione Mafileo 2: Matt Moulds 1: Pauliasi Manu

Reserves: Hame Faiva, Alex Hodgman, Charlie Faumuina/Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Scrafton, Taramai/Kara Pryor, Sam Nock, George Moala, Rene Ranger.