AAMI Park, Melbourne
In a tough 2012 pre-season campaign, the RaboDirect Rebels showed plenty of promise and flashes of brilliance. A few weeks later they caused confusion and panic against the champions in Brisbane, threatening to cause one of the biggest upset victories in FxPro Super Rugby history. After just over a year playing in the world’s top provincial rugby competition, the Rebels have come an incredibly long way very quickly - but now they feel it’s time to turn that progress into success.
Rebels fans were thrilled with their team’s audacious attempt to defeat the Reds on their home turf last week – it was one of the Melbourne side’s most polished performances to date, arguably lacking only composure in the lineout at key moments and the ability to convert attacking opportunities into points.
But it’s testament to the extremely high standards of the players that their foremost feeling was not satisfaction with their numerous improvements, but disappointment after losing a game they believe they had in their grasp.
“I thought we should have won the game, that would have been a good result,” said James O’Connor, whose two penalty goals gave his side the lead for much of the match.
“But it was an improvement on the week before,” O’Connor admitted.
“We’re moving forward and that’s a good thing”.
The Rebels are now eyeing up their Sunday afternoon clash with the Cheetahs as a great opportunity to right some small mistakes and build on last week’s achievements, hopefully earning them their first victory of the season and invaluable momentum going into next Friday’s home match against the Western Force.
But while it’s great to see rugby fans, pundits and even most bookmakers backing the Rebels as favourites for the first time, the players know they’ll have a battle on their hands against the men from Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs have impressed in the relatively short time since they joined the FxPro Super Rugby competition back in 2006, winning five games in their first season and repeating the feat for the last two years running.
They are perhaps best described as unpredictable, however, often turning in an outstanding performance one week only to underperform the next. They also have a history of struggling overseas – their sole Super Rugby victory on foreign soil came only last year, when they managed to overturn the Waratahs in Sydney.
All of this said, the Cheetahs have come agonisingly close to increasing their win tally on numerous occasions, amassing seven losing bonus points in 2011 and already earning another two this season after two- and one-point losses to the Lions and the Brumbies respectively – the latter only thanks to a controversial penalty in the final minute.
Like the Reds last week, the Cheetahs are also blessed with their own expert goalkicker, Johan Goosen, whose streak of successful shots at goal in his debut Super Rugby season was only brought to an end last week when he attempted an enormous kick from 62m. With 47 points for the season so far, Goosen will surely look to punish any indiscretions from the Rebels.
While not a side filled with household names, the Cheetahs have other dangerous players lurking all over the pitch. Winger Willie le Roux looks to have a real turn of pace and can finish well given the chance, hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss is a ferocious ball-runner, and while Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussow has been flying under the radar a little since returning from a long injury, he is still a cunning and relentless presence at the breakdown.
Just as hungry as their hosts for that first win of the 2012 campaign, the Cheetahs won’t hold anything back on Sunday afternoon. The Rebels will certainly not be gifted the next step on their journey towards success – they will have to take it.
24 MAY 2013
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22 MAY 2013