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Rebels and Force named for 2013 Investec Super Rugby opener

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James Mortimer, melbournerebels.com.au and rugbywa.com.au     15 Feb 2013     Getty Images


Head Coach Damien Hill has called three debutants into the starting line up, including Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham, relatively unknown New Zealand flanker Scott Fuglistaller and former Western Force centre Rory Sidey.

Higginbotham has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, which has kept the dynamic backrow forward out of action since the Wallabies win over Wales at Millennium Stadium in December last year.

Scott's fitness has been under a cloud since his return from the Spring Tour, however the High Performance Staff at the Rebels were quick to escalate Scott once clear of his injury.

Partnering the former Super Rugby Player of the Year runner up will be openside flanker, Scott Fuglistaller, after some impressive trial form during the Club's Hobart and Geelong matches.

The New Zealand born Fuglistaller played two Super Rugby matches in 2012 for the Highlanders - covering for injuries late in the year - but is best known for representing the Wellington Lions in the ITM Cup.

The bench will see three new faces in Rebels colours, with former Stade de France outside back, Alex Rokoboro, Sydney University centre, Tom English, and Japanese international Shota Horie all making their debuts from the reserves bench.

It is a reward for persistence for Rokobaro, who played for the Rebel Rising in 2011, before venturing to the European glamour in a quest to return to Super Rugby.

Tom English has also showed extreme resolve and form, with the former Australian Sevens player returning from a serious knee injury to be one of the standout backs in their practice matches.

Shota Horie is certain to make history this Friday night, with the super sub poised to become the first Japanese player ever to play in the Super Rugby Competition, as the Rebels will open up the 2013 season from AAMI Park.

Meanwhile former Blues halfback Alby Mathewson will start for the Force, while front row stalwart Pek Cowan will captain the new-look side in their 2013 Super Rugby season opener against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday night.

Cowan stands in for regular skipper Matt Hodgson, who has been ruled out of the match with a minor hamstring injury.

The 26-year-old becomes the seventh player to lead the Western Australian province in Super Rugby behind Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock, Brett Sheehan, Brendan Cannon, Scott Staniforth and Matt Giteau.

Cowan leads a squad that features seven players in line to make their debut for the Emirates Western Force.

Flanker Chris Alcock will make his debut for the Perth-based side after joining the squad from the Waratahs. He joins a familiar Force forward pack that also includes the return of Sam Wykes (knee) and Ben McCalman (shoulder/broken arm) from lengthy injury layoffs that disrupted their 2012 Super Rugby seasons.

The Emirates Western Force will run out a new-look backline, featuring a revamped halves pairing of Alby Mathewson and former Waikato flyhalf Sam Christie. The Kiwi combination will link with a fresh centre pairing of Kyle Godwin and Winston Stanley, while Alfie Mafi, Patrick Dellit and Will Tupou make up the back three.

“Friday is an exciting opportunity for our new side,” Emirates Western Force Head Coach Michael Foley said.

“As the pre-season has progressed, competition for positions has become more intense, which is a tribute to the players’ efforts to continually lift the standards within the team.

“A key focus for us this year is to improve on the side’s performances from last season and the higher we push our standards, the closer we come to achieving our number one goal of ‘earning respect’.”

The match provides reserve hooker Heath Tessmann’s first opportunity to line up against his former province while replacement backs Mick Snowden, Sias Ebersohn and Junior Rasolea are also in line to make their provincial debut for the Emirates Western Force.

Rebels:

15. James O'Connor
14. Lachlan Mitchell
13. Mitch Inman
12. Rory Sidey*
11. Richard Kingi
10. Kurtley Beale
9. Nick Phipps
8. Gareth Delve (c)
7. Scott Fuglistaller*
6. Scott Higginbotham*
5. Luke Jones
4. Hugh Pyle
3. Laurie Weeks
2. Ged Robinson
1. Nic Henderson

16. Shota Horie^
17. Paul Alo-Emile
18. Cadeyrn Neville
19. Jarrod Saffy
20. Nic Stirzaker
21. Alex Rokobaro^
22. Tom English^

^Super Rugby and RaboDirect Rebels debut
*RaboDirect Rebels debut

Force:

1. Pek Cowan (c)
2. Nathan Charles
3. Tetera Faulkner
4. Sam Wykes
5. Toby Lynn
6. Angus Cottrell
7. Chris Alcock*
8. Ben McCalman
9. Alby Mathewson*
10. Sam Christie**
11. Alfie Mafi
12. Kyle Godwin
13. Winston Stanley
14. Patrick Dellit
15. Will Tupou

Reserves
16. Heath Tessmann*
17. Kieran Longbottom
18. Phoenix Battye
19. Richard Brown
20. Mick Snowden**
21. Sias Ebersohn*
22. Junior Rasolea**

* Emirates Western Force debut

** Emirates Western Force & Super Rugby debut