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    O'Connor to lead Rebels

    2013-02-26 14:43
    Sydney - James O'Connor will captain the Melbourne Rebels in a Super Rugby game for the first time after the team's leader Gareth Delve was ruled out of Friday's clash against the Waratahs  with shoulder soreness.

    Delve has an inflamed shoulder joint and the decision to rest the Welsh No. 8 against the Waratahs has forced a reshuffle, with Scott Higginbotham moving to the back of the scrum, Luke Jones going to blindside breakaway and Cadeyrn Neville starting in the second row. Young openside breakaway Jordy Reid, who has impressed during pre-season training, will get his first Super Rugby call-up, being named in the reserves.

    Coach Damien Hill said Delve's importance was undoubted but it was the correct decision to rest him.

    ''He needs a week's rest rather than doing what you do to make sure he gets through a game … it's the right thing for the shoulder and for Gareth and the team,'' Hill said.

    ''It is always a hard decision to rest your captain, but you've got to take a longer-term view than just week by week as well. We could have played him this week and the shoulder wouldn't have improved and would have been a little bit worse the week after.

    ''Everyone's in agreement with it that it's the right thing to do.''

    Hill, who did not name a deputy to Delve this season, has given O'Connor - who has spoken about his wish to have a greater leadership role - his chance, with the full-back to be supported by Ged Robinson, who for this game has been named vice-captain.

    ''James aspires to be a leader and over the past six months he's really matured as a footballer and that's definitely that's something he can do and do well in the future,'' Hill said. O'Connor will be the Rebels' third skipper after Stirling Mortlock and Delve.

    Meanwhile, Hill knows he does not need to go far to find plenty of unfavourable assessments of Israel Folau's first taste of Super Rugby last weekend. The high-profile recruit had a mixed game for the Waratahs in their 25-17 loss to the Reds with the former rugby league and Australian football player failing to make the impression expected of him.

    But with the Rebels to play the Waratahs, a side they have never beaten, at Allianz Stadium on Friday, Hill is more concerned about what he believed Folau did well.

    ''Everyone's focusing on what he didn't do well. They should be focusing on what he did do well,'' Hill said. ''He is a very good player. I think you should give credit to the Reds, how they managed him. They put a lot of pressure on him and their defence was solid.''

    ''He's played AFL for two years, so his marking will be good, his kicking should be strong, he's a good ball runner, he played league for several years so his defence is good. He doesn't have too many weaknesses.''

    Kurtley Beale was also named at five-eighth after completing Tuesday's training session. Beale suffered a recurrence of a shoulder injury during the Rebels' 30-13 loss to the Brumbies last week but after training for the past two days has been cleared to play.




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

    Substitutes: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Jordy Reid, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Tom English.

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