Strange as it may sound, those two words went hand-in-hand last Saturday night.
Because while the venerable Olympic Park played host to its last-ever football match, the RaboDirect Rebels were introducing themselves to a legion of fans in the sporting capital of Australia.
It was a glorious summer evening, with grey skies giving way to a blistering sun, and fans began filing into the old stadium to see what the new boys had to offer.
While Melbourne is – obviously – the Mecca of Australian Rules Football, there is a healthy rugby scene, and that became obvious on Saturday. A quick chat with those gathered around the food stalls and merchandise stands revealed a passionate, knowledgeable rugby crowd.
Steve and Mark, both native Melbournians, were among the early entrants. “We’re here to support rugby in Melbourne,” Steve said. “We’re big rugby fans and we hope the sport will grow quickly in Victoria.”
Oliver, an English expat living in Geelong, was thrilled to have big-time rugby on offer in Melbourne. “I’m happy to drive up here to watch eighty minutes of rugby,” he said, before adding that “(Danny) Cipriani is a real draw card.”
And Ike and John, who looked as if they could pack down in a scrum themselves, were ecstatic to see Super Rugby in person. “We’re hardcore union fans,” said John. “And now, instead of having to watch other teams on Fox Sports, we’ve got our own team.”
At kickoff, it was clear that this was no ordinary crowd.
There were red-clad Tongan fans waving flags. The Rebel Army was making its presence known under the scoreboard. There were powerbrokers in blue blazers, and singlet-wearing musclemen with tribal tattoos. There were families.
The match itself, while obviously a first-up hit-out, had some thrilling moments. After the Rebels scored two early tries, Tonga powered its way back and took a 13-12 lead into halftime.
The Rebels then poured it on in the second half, scoring five tries, with the exciting Cooper Vuna getting a hat trick. The final score was 43-13.
Head coach Rod Macqueen was asked if he remembered the Brumbies first-ever trial. “I remember it well,” he said. “And it was worse than this. We played against the existing ACT side and they tried to kill us.”
Macqueen of course, had his eye on any number of on-field areas that needed improvement.
But one statistic stood out more than any other: 8,123 fans in attendance. That’s an extraordinary number for a trial match involving a team that’s existed for less than a year.
As Stirling Mortlock put it afterward, “To have Melburnians embrace the RaboDirect Rebels and rugby is a great start.”
The Rebels now take their show on the road, for matches in Morwell next week and Ballarat the week after. Then it’s back home for the final pre-season encounter, a huge match with New Zealand’s powerful Canterbury Crusaders.
And while that one will be played on the lush turf at brand new AAMI Park, the club sends a big thank you to Olympic Park and the Melbourne fans who helped usher in a new era of Super Rugby to Victoria.