Preview: Rebels v Highlanders

Getty Images     12 Jul 2013     Getty Images

/>HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 2, Highlanders 2, Rebels 0.
LAST TIME: Highlanders 43 def Rebels 12, Round 6, 2012 at Dunedin.

The Rebels are missing Wallabies full-back Kurtley Beale after granting the troubled star permission to continue his rehabilitation program for alcohol-related issues in Sydney. Beale has been linked with a return to the Waratahs next season and has almost certainly played his last game for the Rebels. Winger Lachlan Mitchell will also miss the Rebels' final game of the season after losing his appeal on a one-game ban for a lifting tackle on British and Irish Lions winger Simon Zebo. Australia first-five James O'Connor has been named on the bench for his 20th and final appearance for the Rebels after he was told his services are not required next season. Skipper Scott Higginbotham is sidelined for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury.

The Highlanders welcome back skipper Andrew Hore as one of two changes to the starting side. Hore replaces Liam Coltman at hooker while boom youngster Jason Emery returns at centre, forcing Tamati Ellison to shift to inside-centre.

The Rebels suffered a 35-0 thumping at the hands of the British and Irish Lions to extend their losing streak to three matches. They suffered a 39-17 loss to the Brumbies before the break but showed what they are capable of two weeks earlier when they upset the Waratahs 24-22. The men from Melbourne are fourth in the Australian Conference and 12th on the overall ladder after winning just four-of-15 games so far this season.

The Highlanders have endured a miserable season but are coming off a 49-44 victory over the Hurricanes. While they have only managed three wins this year, two of those victories have come in their past four matches. The Highlanders are last in the New Zealand Conference and 14th overall. They will claim the wooden spoon if they lose this weekend and competition newcomers the Kings beat the Sharks in Durban.

WE THINK: There will be plenty of emotion surrounding the final clash of the season for the Rebels with sacked coach Damien Hill and several foundation players departing the club. The Highlanders will also have no shortage of motivation as they looked to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon, but we'll stick with the hosts to finish the year with a win in front of their home crowd on Friday night. Rebels by five.