Rebels start for Stirzaker

Captain Nic Stirzaker will lead the Melbourne Rebels for the first time with a return to the starting XV against the Waratahs on Sunday.

Stirzaker, who was appointed Rebels captain for 2016, has started the last two games against the Sunwolves and Highlanders on the reserves bench after returning from a shoulder reconstruction.

The 25-year-old's inclusion is one of three changes to the Rebels run-on team with Reece Hodge also getting the start at full-back while Cam Crawford replaces the injured Tom English on the wing.

Hodge will start for just the second time in his career after a quad injury sidelined the 21-year-old since his two-try and 20-point debut against the Western Force in the opening round.

Crawford will make his first start of the season on Sunday after successfully returning from a hamstring injury in the second-half against the Highlanders last weekend.

“It will be great to have Nic’s leadership and experience from the start in this Australian derby against the Waratahs, while Reece will inject his speed and enthusiasm, and a boot to match, at full-back," Rebels head coach Tony McGahan said.

Rebels back Sefa Naivalu, named on the reserves bench, returns from a broken leg he suffered against the Sharks in Round 16 last year.

Despite the 27-3 loss to the defending champion Highlanders last weekend at AAMI Park, the Rebels are three points clear of the Waratahs in second place on the Australian Conference ladder.

The Waratahs are coming into their second consecutive Australian derby after their come from behind 15-13 victory over the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, on Sunday.

“Some of our game got exposed against the Highlanders but we come away having learnt some valuable lessons so we’ve picked ourselves up, rolled up the sleeves at training this week and continued to get better," McGahan said.

"There's no doubting the Waratahs’ credentials, they possess a quality team that won them a Super Rugby title two years ago so we're expecting nothing less than a hotly contested Australian derby on Sunday."

Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Dan Hawkins, 23 Sefa Naivalu

Date: Sunday, April 3
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 16:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Lees
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Michael Hogan
TMO: George Ayoub