Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor may be gone but dangers still lurk in the Melbourne Rebels’ unheralded backline, warns Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham.
The Brumbies face a selection poser in midfield with Wallabies centres Christian Lealiifano and Tevita Kuridrani ready to return to Super Rugby action.
The Brumbies have won four matches on the trot, and Larkham hasn’t yet decided whether to stick with last week’s centre combination of Pat McCabe and Andrew Smith.
But he says whoever he puts in the No.12 and No.13 jumpers will have their work cut out for them.
The Rebels backline might not have an Israel Folau, or a Quade Cooper, yet Larkham has seen enough “dangers” to be wary.
He said Rebels centre Mitch Inman was a very physical player, while their outside centre Tamati Ellison “has all the skills”.
“Inman particularly..he’s a big strong ball carrier and they’ve had a bit of success with him on the first phase,” he said.
“Tamati Ellison also played for the All Blacks for a number of years.”
However Larkham, Australia’s greatest modern day flyhalf, reserved the bulk of his praise for 21-year-old Bryce Hegarty, who has made the Rebels’ No.10 jumper his own since Beale returned to the Waratahs and O’Connor was axed last year.
“He burst onto the scene. He controls the game extremely well,” Larkham said.
“He’s got a good pass, a very good kicking game, and he’s a very good defender who puts his body on the line.
“You certainly don’t underestimate a team like this – this backline has enough skill there to beat the best teams in the comp.”
The Rebels outside back stocks have taken a hit though, with winger Lachlan Mitchell (knee) out for the season and exciting fullback Jason Woodward (knee) in doubt.
The Brumbies on the other hand will have all but two backline squad players to choose from, with Henry Speight out with a fractured jaw and Clyde Rathbone (hamstring) available for selection in two weeks.