Melbourne Rebels locks Luke Jones and Cadeyrn Neville have a gilt-edged chance to demand Wallabies selection by cutting Queensland’s Test incumbents down to size on Saturday night.
The Rebels travel to Suncorp Stadium looking to record a first Super Rugby win over the Reds but the rewards can spread further with Test coach Ewen McKenzie to name his first squad of 2014 on Thursday.
Second-row is the area of most concern and least depth for McKenzie following the losses of Sitaleki Timani and Kane Douglas to European clubs, and the in-form Jones and sizey Neville are in the mix.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan revealed on Friday that Australia’s selectors had shown their interest in Jones, while he also talked up the 119kg Neville, who has added an important string to his bow this month by calling their lineout.
Lying in wait is Queensland’s Test second-row pairing of James Horwill and Rob Simmons, who appear certain Wallabies selections despite the Reds’ five-match losing streak.
“Luke has been terrific for us,” McGahan said.
“We had the Wallabies coaching staff down a few weeks ago and he was certainly someone they were keen to get more information on.
“I’m sure Luke will be trying to make his mark and that James and Rob are looking at him.”
Horwill, indeed, admitted the Reds were wary of the highly-mobile 20-year-old who is Melbourne’s chief ball-carrier behind skipper Scott Higginbotham.
But McGahan also warned against ignoring the claims of former rower Neville who has the extra size required for Test rugby and turned his form around since Hugh Pyle announced he was giving up a World Cup shot to head overseas next season.
Beyond the Reds clash is equally testing encounters against the NSW and Brumbies packs to show the Rebels’ abrasive yet unheralded forwards are up to the challenge.
“This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for our forward pack both individually and collectively over the next three weeks to show what they can do,” McGahan said.
“We’re not there to test ourselves anymore. We’re expecting to get over the opposition.”
The problem for the Rebels – competitive against allcomers this season, pushing both the Sharks and Hurricanes in the past fortnight – has been closing out results.
Queensland, thumped 57-29 by the Crusaders last weekend, are ripe for the picking but also braced for a physical affair in a fitting contest for workhorse flanker Beau Robinson’s 50th Reds appearance.