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Former Wallabies centre Stirling Mortlock will play his first Super Rugby game of the season via the Rebels bench in Friday's hit-out against the Bulls at AAMI Park.
The veteran midfielder has been sidelined with an ongoing calf injury, but is now set to ease himself back into action after being named on the Melbourne side's teamsheet as a replacement.
"It's been very frustrating because the calf hasn't allowed me to even get out on the pitch and even train, let alone play," Mortlock told AAP.
"I'm really looking forward to getting out on the paddock for the next month or so and that'll give me a good opportunity to work out what to do next."
Despite the obvious match fitness concerns, Mortlock's return could not come at a better time for the personnel-challenged Rebels.
It provides some respite in a week during which Danny Cipriani made a shock exit, Jarrod Saffy was lost for the season with a neck injury and James O'Connor was ruled out for several weeks with liver damage.
Star recruit Kurtley Beale will play at fly-half, while Mitch Inman slots into outside centre and Cooper Vuna starts on the wing for the match against the in-form Bulls.
Julian Huxley will cover at full-back.
Rebels coach Damien Hill has also made several changes to his forward pack as a result of injury concerns, with Cadeyrn Neville coming in at lock while Luke Jones and Tim Davidson take their places on the side of the scrum.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has included fit-again forwards Flip van der Merwe and Dean Greyling in his starting XV.
Van der Merwe last played against the Crusaders in week seven of the competition where he injured his groin and will replace Wilhelm Steenkamp at lock.
Steenkamp moves to the bench where he replaces England-bound Gerrit-Jan van Velze from the team that beat the Brumbies in their previous encounter two weeks ago.
In another swap, Greyling moves back into the number one jersey, with Dawie Steyn, who debuted against the Brumbies, missing out altogether.
On the bench, Willie Wepener is also back in the fray, replacing Bongo Mbonambi.
The veteran hooker last played in week four against the Reds and was unavailable for selection due to his facial nerves being infected.
The same backline that played in the Bulls 36-34 victory over the Brumbies two weeks ago, will front again.
Deon Stegmann was close to selection, but Bulls coach Frans Ludeke felt that the specialist fetcher needs some time on the training paddock first to get into the team patterns again.
"We need to start well and everyone is aware of that," said Ludeke.
"The Rebels are one of those teams who refuse to go away and we will need to play for 80 minutes to beat them. We have travelled well and in good spirits, so we are keen to play."
Bulls captain Pierre Spies admitted to an air of expectancy in the camp.
"This is a new venue for us and the importance of getting the tour under way with a positive performance makes everyone very keen to get out there," said the Bok number eight.
"The Rebels challenges you with good scrambling defence and have playmakers all round, so we need to focus on our strengths for this one."
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Lachlan Mitchell, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Tim Davidson, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Rod Blake, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Al Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Stirling Mortlock.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Johann Sadie.
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|Saturday 15th February|
|15:05||Cheetahs vs Lions|
|17:10||Sharks vs Bulls|
|Friday 21st February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Chiefs|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Bulls|
|Saturday 22nd February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Blues|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|15:05||Sharks vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Sunday 23rd February|
|05:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 28th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Cheetahs|
|17:10||Stormers vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 1st March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Waratahs vs Reds|
|15:05||Western Force vs Brumbies|
|Friday 7th March|
|06:35||Hurricanes vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Reds vs Cheetahs|
|Saturday 8th March|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Stormers|
|08:40||Western Force vs Melbourne Rebels|
|15:05||Bulls vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 14th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Stormers|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Crusaders|
|Saturday 15th March|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Western Force|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Stuart Barnes with skysports.com