Melbourne Rebels v British & Irish Lions, June 25
Lions' midweek side look to bounce back
June 24, 2013
Lions flanker Dan Lydiate will lead the Lions into their final midweek clash in Melbourne © PA Photos
The bruised and battered British & Irish Lions are set to tackle the Rebels in their final midweek outing at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Tuesday night.
Lions supporters may still be celebrating a narrow victory over Australia in the opening Test on Saturday but the shock loss to the Brumbies last week is still fresh in the mind and no doubt still haunting those players that were involved what was a painful and embarrassing defeat.
That Canberra calamity blotted the Lions' record with the tourists having notched five successive wins to that point - including victories of the Rebels' Super Rugby rivals the Force, Reds and Waratahs. On paper, the Rebels do not appear to have the quality to inflict a Brumbies-style upset with the fledgling franchise currently fourth in the Australian Conference and 12th in the overall table. But with futures on the line - including that of coach Damien Hill - the Rebels are unlikely to leave anything in the locker.
But it is the Lions who will enter the game as firm favourites with their determination to right the wrongs of Canberra - where their commitment was called into question - and the players' desire to play a part in what could well be a rare Test series victory set to key to proceedings.
Melbourne Rebels - Player to Watch: Welshman Gareth Delve will be leaving the Rebels at the end of the campaign and he could seal a move back to Europe or to Japan with a big showing against some familiar foes.
Melbourne Rebels - Team News: Delve leads the Rebels' 'strongest possible' side with Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Nick Phipps in camp with the Wallabies and loose forward Scott Higginbotham sidelined through injury. However, there is international quality in the form of Wallabies No.9 Luke Burgess while Lachlan Mitchell, Tom English and Jason Woodward form the back three. There is further Super Rugby experience in the form of the front row trio of Nic Henderson, Ged Robinson and Laurie Weeks. Delve is joined in the back row by Scott Fuglistaller and Jarrod Saffy while Bryce Hegarty is named at fly-half after recovering from illness.
British & Irish Lions - Player to Watch: With Test No.9 Mike Phillips coming in for some criticism in the wake of the Lions' victory over the Wallabies, can Conor Murray deliver a timely performance and force coach Warren Gatland into a change for the second Test?
British & Irish Lions - Team News: Wales flanker Dan Lydiate will lead the Lions after original skipper Geoff Parling was withdrawn as a result of a tour-ending injury for Test lock Paul O'Connell. Centre Manu Tuilagi is also back from injury and will partner England colleague Brad Barritt in midfield. Rob Kearney is named at fullback, linking with Simon Zebo and Sean Maitland in the back three. Owen Farrell guides the team at fly-half alongside scrum-half Conor Murray. Ryan Grant, Richard Hibbard and Dan Cole are handed starts in the front-row while Ian Evans starts alongside Richie Gray in the second row. Lydiate is named at blindside with Sean O'Brien on the other side of the scrum and Toby Faletau at No.8.
Key Battle: Rebels No.8 Gareth Delve and his Lions counterpart and countryman Toby Faletau are set for an intriguing contest as part of a pivotal forward battle. If Delve has any hopes of adding to his 10 Test caps if he returns to the northern hemisphere then he needs to show he can mix it with his Welsh rival.
Trivia: The Brumbies became the 27th non-Test side to topple the Lions with victory in Canberra last week - could the Rebels add their name to that roll of honour?
Stats: The recent recruitment of Ireland prop Tom Court - who will start this game on the bench - took the number of replacements drafted in by the Lions since announcing their original squad to a record nine players.
"There's not too many chinks in the Lions' armour...But there's always a chance (to win), definitely."
"It's the opportunity for me and obviously for all the other lads who didn't play last Saturday to show we're all trying to get into that Test team."
Prediction: The second-string Lions will still be hurting having lost to the Brumbies last time out and you can expect this significantly stronger line up to channel that frustration and over-power a gutsy but limited Rebels side.
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