Improving Rebels out to test Highlanders

·2-min read

Winless Melbourne say they need to throw the first punch if they want to be in the fight with the Highlanders, who they meet in round three of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman on Sunday.

The Rebels have had a disappointing start to the six-week league, although they aren't alone with Australian teams unable to crack a win from 10 games against their Kiwi opponents.

After a horror opening match against the Blues, Melbourne interim coach Kevin Foote said he saw some big gains in their 35-13 loss to the Hurricanes and hoped for more against the Highlanders in Queenstown.

He thought their set-piece was a notable improvement but felt they needed to work on their game management and target a fast start so they weren't playing on the back foot.

"You don't let them get the punches in early ... we want to look at starting fast and throwing punches from the get go and then defence will feed that as we won't have to defend for so long," Foote told AAP.

The Rebels have won their past two clashes with the Highlanders, including a trip to Dunedin in round five last year before the regular competition was abandoned due to COVID-19.

"I just reminded the guys about this time last year - we've had some great games and I think we're looking forward to that and I think we've got a game plan that will suit us well," he said.

Wallabies assistant Scott Wisemantel, who is helping guide the Rebels attack through the competition after the departure of Shaun Berne, spent time on Monday plotting with Rebels skipper Matt Toomua.

Foote said Wisemantel had brought a lot to the program in a short time.

"He's been awesome - he's passionate and very, very knowledgeable with his experience but also he calls it out," he said.

"The best thing for us is honest feedback so we can move forward."

Carter Gordon is set for his second start at five-eighth with the 20-year-old earning high praise from his coach for his first outing against a New Zealand Super Rugby opponent.

"He was awesome - 20 years old tackling (Ngani) Laumape - it's not an easy job and he did it.

"He was brave ... I thought he kicked well out of hand, he exited well and called the game well so I'm really proud of him."

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