Luke Burgess box-seated in Rebels race
January 21, 2014
Luke Burgess has impressed the Rebels staff since returning from Toulouse © Getty Images
Luke Burgess has a head start in his race against Nic Stirzaker to be the starting Melbourne Rebels scrum-half, his 37 Wallabies appearances, 59 Super caps and more than 50 matches for four-time Heineken Cup champions Toulouse a major advantage given the lack of depth and inexperience at fly-half.
Bryce Hegarty, with just five Super Rugby caps, is the first-choice five-eighth after the Rebels lost Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor from their backline, with veteran Kiwi centre Tamati Ellison the only other option at No.10.
Burgess joined Melbourne after his stint in France with hopes of reclaiming a Wallabies jersey, and he has impressed Rebels coach Tony McGahan in training. But Stirzaker, who has a bullet pass, impressed as deputy for Nick Phipps in 2013 and McGahan, who has taken over as head coach from Damien Hill, said the veteran would still have to earn his spot.
"Luke's come back in fine fettle from his time in Toulouse," McGahan said, noting that his best line-up was far from settled ahead of the rebels' first Super Rugby trial against New South Wales Waratahs in Albury on February 1.
"He's come back with a lot more experience in how the game's played differently over there, and he's been a real constant source of information for the younger players. He's driven himself well, he's driven the other players well, he's fit and keen to play."
There's also stiff competition in the front-row, with loose-head recruits Max Lahiff and Toby Smith in the mix. Lahiff, who qualifies for the Wallabies through his Australian father, was recruited from London Irish while Smith, born in Queensland, moved after four years with back-to-back champions the Cheifs.
McGahan intends to give all of his squad members a run in Albury, including former Waratahs Lopeti Timani and Tom Kingston. McGahan said winger Kingston, who will cover the loss of Cooper Vuna and Richard Kingi, had settled in well at Melbourne.
"He's been terrific for us; his professionalism, the way he trains, the way he talks, the way he conducts himself has been terrific. He's really keen and Lopeti is of the same mind set."