Melbourne Rising braces for tight NRC semi-final showdown with Perth Spirit
The Melbourne Rising has produced some impressive blowouts in the National Rugby Championship’s inaugural season, but coach Sean Hedger is preparing his unbeaten team for a “tight, low-scoring affair” in its semi-final clash against Perth Spirit at AAMI Park on Saturday.
Hedger said the Melbourne team had been lucky to have access to so many Super Rugby players this season, but added its 12 Rebels players would confront a strong Spirit side containing 11 players from the Western Force.
In a further challenge to the Rising, it has lost three players – Tom English, Sean McMahon and Luke Jones – to the Wallabies, who left for their European Spring Tour on Friday.
Hedger believes the trio’s call-up to the national squad is a positive for the fledgling competition and for Melbourne Rising, but is somewhat reserved about his team’s chances of victory.
“We don’t expect to win easily by any means. We still expect victory, but it will be a very tight game of football,” he said.
Hedger said a strong defence against Spirit would be key to success.
“We’ve had success all year through a lot of movement of the ball, but that needs to be based on a quick recycle around the breakdown,” he said. “That’s probably our main focus – that we have to get our breakdown right.
“Conversely, Perth play a very different style, where they don’t move the ball around so much, but they’re very good at recycling the ball and holding on to it for long periods of time. So our biggest goal is to be patient in defence and to not get frustrated.”
Melbourne captain Nic Stirzaker said matching Perth’s physical style would be crucial to the team’s bid to make the final.
“Perth was always a physical side, they control possession really well, so we are going to have to make a lot of tackles and take up the opportunity when we have the ball,” he said.
“It will be a really tough game, a physical game. I don’t think it will be high scoring, as a lot of the games in the NRC have been. That’s just because of the way Perth has been playing. It will be a tight contest and we probably won’t find out who will win until the last few minutes.”