All on the line for two sides under the pump

THE battle of the back row will go a long way towards deciding tomorrow night's Super Rugby match between the Rebels and Reds in Melbourne.

While it might only be round eight, the losing team from this match could almost kiss its finals hopes goodbye.

The Rebels are third in the Australian conference with two wins and four losses, while Queensland is last with a poor 1-5 record, putting it second-last overall.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Rebels coach Tony McGahan said he expected both sides to be desperate for the points.

"Everyone is dangerous at this point and has different motivations to play well," he said. "You've got two sides who are going to be slugging it out."

One of the key match-ups will be at flanker where young Rebels and Wallabies representative Sean McMahon (pictured) is likely to come up against former All Blacks star Adam Thomson, one of the shining lights in the Reds' poor start to the season.

Two players competing for the Wallaby No.8 jersey will likely clash as well, with Melbourne's Scott Higginbotham to come up against former Reds teammate Jake Schatz.

The battle at open-side flanker could, however, prove to be crucial.

The Rebels will likely opt for co-captain Scott Fuglistaller, or Colby Fainga'a.

The Reds must choose between Wallaby Liam Gill, who is returning from suspension, or incumbent young gun Curtis Browning.

Fuglistaller had to be patient and wait for a first start of the season against the Western Force in round five.

Even then he exited the action early with a dislocated finger, but he has made his presence felt in starting the past two matches. The Rebels will go into the Good Friday clash without veteran prop Laurie Weeks who is expected to miss up to eight after scans discovered a fracture in his left shin.

ROUND EIGHT (Home teams first): Hurricanes v Stormers, Rebels v Reds, Chiefs v Blues, Brumbies v Cheetahs, Sharks v Crusaders, Lions v Bulls. Byes: Western Force, Highlanders, Waratahs.

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