Tom Chamberlain.

Tom Chamberlain. Photo: Getty Images

THERE are few harder places to be than scavenging at the bottom of a ruck against hard-nosed New Zealanders who are among the best exponents at the breakdown.

But that is what Tom Chamberlain faces tonight when the Melbourne Rebels play the Highlanders in Invercargill.

And he knows only too well the challenge he faces, being a New Zealander and having spent the off-season playing in his homeland.

Chamberlain, who has been a regular at open-side flanker this season after receiving limited opportunities behind Michael Lipman last year, believes New Zealand teams provided the biggest challenge at the breakdown. However, he believes the Rebels can hold their own against the Highlanders tonight.

The Rebels and the Highlanders both head into their Super Rugby clash with new five-eighths - but there the similarity ends.

While the injury-ravaged Highlanders have been forced to call on Chris Noakes, who has played only one Super match, the Rebels have James O'Connor as their new No. 10. With a hamstring complaint ruling out regular five-eighth Danny Cipriani, O'Connor brings Test experience as well 41 Super appearances into the match at Invercargill's Rugby Park.

Veteran Mark Gerrard said it would be tough for 26-year-old Noakes, who has replaced luckless All Black Colin Slade, who broke his leg against the Brumbies last round. Noakes played his first Super game in the Highlanders' season-opening win over the Chiefs but has battled an ankle injury since.

''As a rookie playmaker it will be very difficult with him getting used to the level of Super Rugby, while James has played at international level at 10 and has played there this season as well for us,'' Gerrard said.

The Highlanders have also lost hooker Andrew Hore to a calf injury, while Test lock Jarrad Hoeata is back from a pectoral muscle problem, as is flanker Adam Thomson (neck).

Despite the changes to the Highlanders' line-up, Gerrard said the Rebels couldn't afford to take them lightly. ''If you look at those players coming back it's still a very strong outfit and they have been close to the benchmark this year in Super Rugby,'' he said. ''We know how hard they are to play, especially in Invercargill.''

Highlanders hooker Jason Rutledge is wary of the threat posed by the Rebels.

The teams approach the game with contrasting mindsets, the Highlanders rocked by their first loss of the campaign and a growing injury toll and the Rebels buoyed by their first win of the season.

The Rebels beat the Force 30-29 in Melbourne last weekend and there has been additional good news this week with star backs O'Connor (hamstring) and Kurtley Beale (calf) back in the starting line-up.

''They're a talented bunch,'' Rutledge said. ''They're one of those teams that can rip you to pieces in a short time if you lose concentration. They're very hard to stop if they get a bit of confidence and get on a roll.''

With AGENCIES