Philip fronts for Rebels in key Super Rugby clash

·2-min read
Scott Barbour/AAP PHOTOS

Matt Philip is expected to run out for Melbourne's crucial Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Highlanders in Dunedin after the Test lock's return from injury was almost thwarted by illness.

The 29-year-old, who hasn't played since suffering a serious knee injury during Wallabies training last October, woke up in Dunedin on Friday feeling unwell.

But the Rebels say he got through their final training run and is expected to start in the Saturday afternoon match.

Melbourne GM of Rugby, former Test prop Nick Stiles, said Philip was champing at the bit to play.

"Matty's worked incredibly hard since since the injury ... it's a credit to him and his dedication around everything in his rehab to get back as quick as he has," Stiles told AAP.

"He really wanted to play last week but we had to slow him down to get some extra training in so when he plays against the Highlanders he's going to be ready to go.

"He's one of the best line-out operators in Australia and last year he was one of the highest ball-carriers in the competition.

"He's a big lump of a lad so will add some real punch through the middle."

The Rebels have won three of the past four Super meetings between the two sides and are returning to Dunedin for the first time since 2020's thrilling 28-22 win.

Both teams are locked on 15 points, three outside the finals-bound top eight, with three games to play so are desperate for victory.

Melbourne will be without in-form playmaker Carter Gordon, who will miss a week with knee bruising, with Reece Hodge starting at 10.

Stiles said the rest could be a blessing for the 22-year-old, who is in the frame for Test selection after a break-out season.

"We're all very hopeful of what he's got ahead of him for the rest of the year so it can give him a chance to really freshen up physically and mentally as well.

"He's gone from not having played a lot of Super to really driving the ship around and he's done a fantastic job so this could take him to a new level in the last two rounds."

Wallabies utility back Hodge will become the most-capped player in club history when he plays his 98th Super Rugby match.

Stiles said the 62-Test veteran remained incredibly important to the side.

"Playing at 10 pretty much signifies his importance to the organisation - throughout his career he's been that real Mr Fix-it and can plug holes."