The experience of former Wallaby Luke Burgess could give him an edge in his quest to be the Melbourne Rebels’ starting halfback.
The experience of former Wallaby Luke Burgess is set to give him a head start in his race against Nic Stirzaker to be the Melbourne Rebels’ starting halfback.
Taking on the Waratahs in their first Super Rugby trial in Albury on Saturday February 1, Rebels coach Tony McGahan said his best line-up was far from settled.
Burgess joined Melbourne after a stint in France and is looking to reclaim a Wallabies jersey.
He has 37 Test caps, 59 Super caps and more than 50 appearances for four-time Heineken Cup champions Toulouse.
But first the 30-year-old must get past Stirzaker, who was deputy for Nick Phipps who will line up with NSW in 2014.
Speedy Stirzaker, who has a bullet pass, impressed with his chances in 2013.
What could swing selection Burgess’ way is the Rebels’ lack of depth and inexperience at five-eighth, with their first choice rookie Bryce Hegarty, who has only five Super caps.
With the Rebels losing star playmakers Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor from their backline, Melbourne’s other option is to play veteran Kiwi centre Tamati Ellison at 10.
McGahan, who has taken over as head coach from Damien Hill, had been impressed with Burgess but said he would still have to earn his spot.
“Luke’s come back in fine fettle from his time in Toulouse; he’s come back with a lot more experience in how the game’s played differently over there and he’s been a real constant source of information for the younger players,” he said.
“He’s driven himself well, he’s driven the other players well, he’s fit and keen to play.”
As well as the halves, there’s stiff competition in the front row with new loosehead recruits Max Lahiff and Kiwi Toby Smith in the mix.
Lahiff, who qualifies for the Wallabies through his Australian father, was recruited from London Irish while Smith was born in Queensland.
He spent four years at the Chiefs and helped steer them to the 2012 and 2013 Super titles.
McGahan intends to give all of his squad members a run in Albury, including former Waratahs Lopeti Timani and Tom Kingston.
McGahan said winger Kingston, who will cover the loss of Cooper Vuna and Richard Kingi, had settled in well at Melbourne.
“He’s been terrific for us; his professionalism, the way he trains, the way he talks, the way he conducts himself has been terrific.
“He’s really keen and Lopeti is of the same mind set.”
The Rebels have a first round bye and then open their season against the Cheetahs on February 28.