Rebels coach Dave Wessels has resisted the temptation to rush hooker Jordan Uelese into Melbourne’s starting side despite resting regular starter Anaru Rangi for the clash against the Sunwolves.
World Cup hopeful Uelese has been forced to watch on from the sidelines this season as he worked to rehabilitate the ACL he ruptured on the eve of last year’s Test series against Ireland.
But after a successful return for the Melbourne Rising last week, he has been named for Saturday’s clash against the Sunwolves, although he will come off the bench with Wessels handing Hugh Roach a start at no.2.
“Anaru just needs a little bit of a rest, I found him to be a bit flat,” Wessels said.
“He really puts his body on the line, so he deserves a bit of a rest and we’re fortunate that Hugh Roach is playing really well, every game he’s come off the bench he’s made an impression.
“Jordan Uelese has done a hell of a job in his rehab and competed well, so it’s great to have him back in the mix.”
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Despite that, Wessels would not just hand him a starting berth.
“I think Jordy’s got to earn his way back into the team,” he said.
“Both Roachy and Anaru have been playing well and it wouldn’t be right for a guy to leapfrog them until he’s had the opportunity to earn his spot.
“But I have to give Jordy his dues, he’s in the best physical shape I’ve ever seen him in and he’s really worked hard through his rehab process to be in career-best shape.
“So I’m looking forward to what he’s going to bring.”
Lock Adam Coleman also returns to the line-up after overcoming a shoulder injury.
“I thought he brought a real presence in training today,” Wessels said from Japan.
“His control around the set piece … will obviously be very important this weekend and he’s in very good shape.
“He hasn’t been able to play in recent weeks, but he’s done a lot of conditioning and a lot of running, so his body is feeling pretty fresh and he’s looking very fit, so it’s nice to have him back in the mix.”
The Rebels head into the clash having won just one of their last four games but Wessels said it had not affected his players’ mindset.
“In the context of where we’ve been as a club, just 18 months ago we’d won only one game in the whole season, so we were definitely nowhere near the mix at finals time,” he said.
“The overwhelming thing for us is we’re very close to achieving something pretty special and I think there’s more excitement around that for us.
“A win on the weekend would put us equal with last year’s performance as the most successful Rebels team ever and if we can get another win somewhere in the next three games, we become the most successful Rebels team ever.
“For us, those are the things that are exciting and I see those as challenges rather than burdens at the moment.”
The Sunwolves are languishing at the bottom of the Australian conference but will be no pushovers.
“I think the Sunwolves are a much improved team this year,” Wessels said.
“Certainly in the first game we played them, although in the end there was a gap in the scoreline, there was definitely a period in that game where it could’ve gone either way.
“They’ve got some guys who can give you some real problems if you’re not in the right frame of mind.
“Obviously for us it’s a pretty important game, so we’ve got to make sure that we play well but judging by the guys’ intensity and concentration in training, I’m feeling pretty good.”
The Rebels take on the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday, May 25, kicking off at 3:15pm AEST, live on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports and via RUGBY.com.au radio.