Super Rugby
O'Connor returns as Cipriani steps down
ESPNscrum Staff
March 28, 2012
The Rebels' James O'Connor slots a kick, Melbourne Rebels v Cheetahs, Super Rugby, AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia, March 18, 2012
James O'Connor will take centre stage for the Rebels against the Highlanders © Getty Images

The Melbourne Rebels swap one international playmaker for another as James O'Connor replaces Danny Cipriani for their clash with the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.

O'Connor returns from a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the Rebels' first win of the season against the Western Force last time out. The Wallabies star replaces Cipriani at fly-half after the Englishman suffered a similar hamstring injury during the Force match. Australia fullback Kurtley Beale is also back for the Rebels but Richard Kingi misses out. The Highlanders will be looking to bounce back from defeat to the Brumbies last weekend - their only defeat so far this season.

The Highlanders are a point behind the Chiefs, who top the New Zealand conference and host the Waratahs on Saturday. The Chiefs only defeat so far came against the Highlanders on the opening day of the season while the Waratahs have already gone down three times this season. However they overcame the Sharks 34-30 last time out and Michael Foley names an unchanged side to face the Chiefs.

The Stormers are the only unbeaten side remaining in the competition and they put their perfect record on the line in Cape Town when they host the Bulls. They retain the same backline that helped beat the Lions in Johannesburg but coach Allister Coetzee has bulked up the pack in anticipation of a fierce physical contest with the Bulls. Rynhardt Elstadt and Duane Vermeulen start at flanker and No.8.

Dan Carter makes his first start of the season for the Crusaders as they take on the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday. The All Blacks fly-half made his comeback from a groin injury from the bench for the Crusaders in their win over the Cheetahs last weekend. Tom Taylor starts alongside Carter at inside centre while Wyatt Crockett and George Whitelock come into the pack.

The Brumbies, who are four points clear of defending Super Rugby champions the Reds at the top of the Australian conference, face the Sharks at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.

The injury-ravaged Reds, meanwhile, travel to Perth for the all-Australian clash with the Western Force and make five changes after their mauling by the Bulls. Flanker Liam Gill comes in to tackle David Pocock while James Hanson, Joel Rapana James Slipper and Van Humphries also start.

Meanwhile the Cheetahs host the Hurricanes on Saturday.

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