The Melbourne Rebels remember the last time they played the Western Force all too well.
Players like to say they move on quickly from bad losses, and while Tamati Ellison dutifully held to script on Thursday, Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham conceded the 32-7 drubbing it received in round four stung.
The Rebels had gone into its second game of the season riding high off the back of an impressive win against the Cheetahs, but were embarrassed in a particularly poor first half against the Force in Perth.
Higginbotham said the Rebels would look at repaying that result by snapping the Force’s club-record five game winning streak at AAMI Park on Friday night.
‘‘It was a very disappointing game, especially coming off the first game of the season and a great win,” he said. “To go into such an embarrassing loss, it does bug you and was very disappointing.
“The Force are doing a fantastic job. It’s fantastic to see another side, other than the Brumbies and Reds, doing so well. It’s great for Australian rugby to have all the sides doing reasonably well.
”They have surprised me and I think they have surprised a lot of people. You can see what they’re doing, they’re not doing a lot of special things, but they’re working hard and they’re doing it well.
“We want to break that winning streak – that’s the whole point of [Friday] night. We let ourselves down when we played them the first time and this is our last chance to play them this year.”
The Perth game, when the Rebels conceded four first-half tries, and the 32-8 loss to the Waratahs in round six, have been the only blowouts that the Rebels have suffered this season. with their three other losses being by less than one try.
But Higginbotham said such performances, which were hailed during the club’s first three seasons, were no longer looked on favourably. “Close isn’t good enough. That’s the mindset of the team,” he said.
Lock Cadeyrn Neville is the only change to the Rebels starting line-up, replacing Hugh Pyle.
Meanwhile, Waratahs are banking on Israel Folau’s attacking verve to revive their flagging season in Saturday night’s crunch match against the Bulls.
After opening 2014 with back-to-back bonus-point wins to lead the competition, the Waratahs have fallen in a hole in Folau’s absence with a throat injury. Folau bagged eight tries in four games, but the Waratahs have managed to cross for only three in three matches without their fullback.
”With Israel back in the line-up, you know if you give him five opportunities he’ll finish two or three of those,” said Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson.
Fellow back-line star Adam Ashley-Cooper says there’s no hiding the fact the Waratahs are a for more formidable outfit with Folau on deck. ”We’ve got to learn to play without Izzy but, luckily for us, we’ve got him this week and hopefully he makes a real difference,” he said.
Folau’s return to full-back, at the expense of Jono Lance, is the only change to the Waratahs’ starting side. Midfield playmaker Kurtley Beale has battled a sore back this week, but the Waratahs insist he will play.