Crunch time looms for the Highlanders in Melbourne

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Coach Clarke Dermody said, "We're playing teams around us on the table, and that's always important.

"We're disappointed with how we finished before the bye against the Hurricanes. They are a class outfit, but we don't feel like we put ourselves in that game.

"We know the challenge that the Rebels face. We're going over there when they're on a high. They have a lot of media around them, but it's almost galvanised them in a big way.

"They're playing a brand of rugby that suits them, with a big set piece. They use that throughout the game, and they'll try to squeeze us.

"We weren't quite good enough in that area against the Hurricanes, and we know that's where they're going to target."

Countering the Rebels' strength late in games was behind starting prop Ethan de Groot on the bench as they looked to counter the impact of Rebels prop Taniela Tupou.

AJ Faleafaga is to start at first five-eighths, with Welsh international Rhys Patchell not included in the 23.

Dermody said Faleafaga's talent was evident, and he had done a great job for the Highlanders off the bench.

"He's added real excitement to our attack, and that's the way we want to head over in Melbourne. He's been involved with us now for pretty much every game. He's done an outstanding job and the boys have got confidence in his ability to run our game."

Patchell's form had slipped in recent weeks, and he was getting a chance to get his game back in order. Cam Miller is also not included.

"We've got Sam Gilbert who is a pretty good utility and it allows us to bring another outside back onto the bench. That's why we haven't got a first five-eighths on the bench."

Loose forward Hugo Plummer is set to debut from the bench, the 11th debut for the side this season.

"He's come through our high performance team, he's led our Under-20s and he's been around the team for the last couple of years, and he's a big body. He's physical, and that's what we're looking for from him. He's earned his stripes through our Bravehearts programme, and running against the starters [in training] and I'm looking to seeing him go."


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