Former All Black Tamait Ellison will play an influential midfield role for a new-look Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby.
All Black recruit Tamati Ellison has been earmarked for inside centre as the Melbourne Rebels tap into his vast experience to help youngster Bryce Hegarty handle their playmaking duties.
The classy Ellison has played the bulk of his Super Rugby at outside centre in New Zealand but will make his club run-on debut for the Rebels at No.12 in Friday night’s final pre-season hit-out against Queensland at Ballymore.
Former Brisbane Broncos NRL colt Hegarty, boasting just five Super caps, is in the five-eighth hot seat after beating Angus Roberts for the key role left vacant after the departure of James O’Connor.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan admitted it was likely Hegarty and Roberts would share time at No.10 through the season and he’d also look at Ellison, 30, as a playmaking option.
“We’re in early stages of seeing where the best fit is for Tamati and where that fits in the midfield with different combinations but certainly he’ll play an important role in what we do this year,” said McGahan.
“He’s a very experienced campaigner, he’s been playing Super 15 rugby since 2001, so he’ll bring a real calmness to what is a very young backline in terms of experience.
“Communication will be important for us.”
Roberts will start at fullback against the Reds as strike player Jason Woodward is rested on the bench after impressing in trial wins over NSW and the Hurricanes.
Lock Cadeyrn Neville will make his first appearance of the year while Lopeti Timani also returns to the bench after being a late withdrawal against the Hurricanes.
McGahan has instilled a gritty approach from the Rebels, focussing heavily on improving both fitness and defence in a squad which has seen a high turnover on and off the field.
“A lot of things are nice and shiny at the moment but the bottom line is the players have worked really hard and been the driving force of what we’ve done,” he said.
“We’ve had a good start to the trial season and we’ve had a good pre-season so far but tomorrow night we’re going to get a real test against a very experienced Reds side.”
Melbourne have been mentioned as Australia’s big improvers and their pre-season form hasn’t escaped the attention of Queensland.
“I’ve been really impressed,” said Reds prop James Slipper.
“Even Scott Higginbotham is going to a few breakdowns now, so obviously they’re all working for each other,” the Wallabies front-rower added with a smile.