Rebels insist Wallabies no distraction
WHILE Wallabies duty is beckoning, Melbourne's Test candidates won't be leaving anything in the tank against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday given their Super Rugby finals hopes are on the line.
The Rebels had a record eight players included in the Wallabies squad - named on Wednesday - for the Test series against Ireland starting next weekend in Brisbane.
Star halfback Will Genia, who has been out for three weeks with a knee injury, was among them but has been rested from the Blues game to ensure his fitness for the Test opener against the Six Nations champions.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels doesn't believe his players will be distracted by the looming series.
"The guys who are here care about the team and we have the chance over the next couple of weeks to do something that the side's never previously done and those two things mean they are really invested here," Wessels said on Friday.
Melbourne have only won once in New Zealand and never in Auckland but Wessels said that after back to back victories, his men were full of confidence.
The Blues are running last in the New Zealand conference and the Rebels see the match as a must win in order for them to catch Australian leaders the Waratahs, who they currently trail by just a point.
The Rebels have a much harder run to the finals than the Tahs when Super Rugby resumes following the June Tests.
"The game's come at a good time - the guys are feeling confident and we're more aware we're able to handle anything that's thrown at us in a game," Wessels said.
In a bonus for Melbourne, the Blues will be without bullocking All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams, who has been ruled out of match and the June series against France after injuring his knee at the Test side's training camp in Christchurch this week.
Williams will be sidelined for "several weeks" as he undergoes surgery with Terrence Hepetema taking his place in the Blues' starting lineup.
While the Blues can match the Rebels for explosive pace out wide, Melbourne feel they may be able to edge them in the forwards.
The Blues' lineout struggled in their most-recent loss to the Crusaders, and it might be an area they can exploit given Wessels believes his side's set piece has improved.
"The last couple of weeks it's certainly strengthened," he said.
"We've had Nick Stiles helping us with our scrum this week and we've made real progress over the last month or so."
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