Rebels coach rolls dice on Roberts

Rebels coach rolls dice on Roberts

JAMES O'Connor or Kurtley Beale at No. 10? That's the big dilemma facing Melbourne Rebels coach Damien Hill at the start of 2013.

But it is unheralded youngster Angus Roberts who's set to get first chance to call the playmaking shots in the Rebels' opening Super Rugby trial against the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday night in Hobart.

Young gun: Angus Roberts in action.

Young gun: Angus Roberts in action.

Photo: Mick Tsikas

Sydney University five-eighth Roberts will share time at both first-receiver and fullback with O'Connor, who is likely to start his long-awaited comeback at No.15 in the pre-season clash.

Roberts, 22, has impressed during the pre-season and is viewed as a diamond in the rough by Melbourne officials who like the look of the youngster as a future playmaker.

''For a young guy who hasn't played that much [professional] rugby he's done exceptionally well this pre-season,'' Hill said.


''He will get time at 10 and 15 and James will get time at 10 and 15.''

If O'Connor makes his long-awaited comeback from recurring hamstring troubles at fullback it could well be opposite code-jumper Israel Folau, who is set to make his senior rugby debut for the Waratahs. An O'Connor versus Folau fullback battle in the AFL state of Tasmania would have been inconceivable four months ago but it looks on the cards.

O'Connor loomed as long-term five-eighth once mercurial Englishman Danny Cipriani left the Rebels last season but it was Beale who made the biggest impact as No.10, then going on to impress as Wallabies playmaker in their last six Tests of 2012.

While the pair are the most influential players in the fledgling Melbourne club's bid to break into the finals for the first time, neither are expected to be included in the Rebels leadership group to be announced in the coming days.

Beale could be rested for the opening trial due to his heavy schedule last year but Hill said he's returned to the Rebels in good shape.

''He's in great nick,'' he said.

''We still have to get some kilometres into his legs but in terms of his attitude and overall physical condition he's come back exceptionally well.''

Hill will rest Wallabies back-rower and big-name Queensland recruit Scott Higginbotham while former Brumbies and Reds three-quarter Kimami Sitauti (broken leg) is the only other Rebel ruled out.


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