BACK IN THE FRAY: Lopeti Timani returns for the Rebels against the Brumbies.
BACK IN THE FRAY: Lopeti Timani returns for the Rebels against the Brumbies. Mark Kolbe

Melbourne Rebels ready to yell

Rebels coach Tony McGahan admits tonight's match against the Brumbies at AAMI Park is the biggest in the Melbourne franchise's history.

The Rebels are third in the Australian conference but just two Super Rugby points behind leaders the Brumbies.

They have never made the finals in their five previous seasons but are still well in the hunt with six regular-season games to play.

"It's our biggest game, I don't think there's any denying that," McGahan said.

"We haven't been in this position where you've got an opportunity to have control in the later part of the season."

Largely seen as easy-beats since they entered the competition in 2011, the Rebels will be anything but pushovers in front of their home fans on such a big occasion.

They will be bolstered by the returns of experienced campaigners Colby Fainga'a, Mike Harris and Lopeti Timani to their starting line-up.

Harris returns to fullback for the first time since he suffered a quad injury in the Rebels' 25-19 opening-round win over the Force.

Blindside flanker Fainga'a has been recalled to the starting 15 for the first time since he injured his elbow in that same game.

Second-rower Timani has recovered from a quad injury to be selected in the run-on team after he missed his side's 36-30 loss to the Blues two weeks ago.

The Brumbies will be without Robbie Coleman (hamstring), who relished his opportunity at inside centre against the Bulls in his team's 23-6 win last Friday night.

James Dargaville will shift from the wing to inside centre, with Lausii Taliauli starting on the wing and Brumbies Colts captain Jordan Jackson-Hope coming into the match-day 23.

Tonight's Highlanders v Crusaders blockbuster in Dunedin will see David Havili start ahead of All Black Ryan Crotty at inside centre and Andy Ellis returns to the starting line-up in place of Mitchell Drummond at halfback.

The Highlanders are largely unchanged, with the hard-running Liam Squire coming into the reserves after recovering from his hip injury against the Brumbies in the 23-10 win two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, star Hurricanes Julian and Ardie Savea, Cory Jane and Victor Vito, along with reserve prop Chris Eves, will watch tomorrow's clash against the Reds from the Westpac Stadium stands after breaking a team-imposed curfew last week.

The Reds have made one change to their starting side, with a groin injury to Karmichael Hunt opening the door for Ayumu Goromaru to return at fullback.

Injury has also forced a change to the reserves, with hooker Saia Fainga'a replaced by Matt Mafi after undergoing foot surgery which will sideline him for seven weeks.



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