For the RaboDirect Rebels, the pain of a 43-0 defeat at the hands of the Waratahs will sting, but the sense of pride at launching a new franchise in front of a packed house in the world’s sporting capital will prevail much longer.
A phenomenal 25,524 people crammed into AAMI Park and generated the sort of atmosphere unique to rugby that was a driving force behind the creation of the club. Deep in the game, sure of defeat, the massed ranks of the Rebel Army remained in full voice and cheered their heroes until the end.
Prop, Lawrie Weeks, was fulsome in his praise of the Victorian sporting public and their impact on a memorable night. “It was amazing,” he said in the rooms after the game. “It actually hurts sometimes because you can’t hear the lineout calls because the crowd is so loud! The Melbourne crowd is amazing and I really wanted to perform for them and get them back again.”
“If we can get crowds like that week in, week out, that’s half the battle won.”
Despite all the imaginary tackles and wannabe-sidesteps transferred from the stands, collective will power could not get the Rebels over the line. Something that Weeks was immensely disappointed about. “The result matters a lot,” he said. “The main reason we’re here is to win, there’s no questions about that. Tonight I really wanted to win, not only for us but also for the people that turned out. It was just an amazing turnout from the fans and what I really wanted to do was put on a good show for them. I hope they enjoyed it.”
Such an unflattering scoreline suggests the drawing-board will be revisited quickly in advance of the Brumbies’ visit next Friday. Weeks was adamant though what his side needs to focus on most as they strive for their inaugural Super Rugby points. “I think we have to fix up on our ball-handling errors. There were way too many turnovers, which is unacceptable,” he said. “Every time we gained ten metres we were taking 20 back because we dropped the ball and the Waratahs are a team that you can’t do that to because they’ll capitalise on everything and we just gave them too many in’s.”
After surviving the preseason without many injuries, the Rebels left AAMI Park with their fair share of bumps and bruises, many of which will require assessing before the squad will be finalised for next week. Hoani MacDonald suffered a hand injury, Cooper Vuna damaged a shoulder and James Hilgendorf lasted only ten minutes before he succumbed to a problem with his right AC joint.
On a more positive note, a young Rebel Rising squad won the night’s curtain raiser against an Australian Barbarians XV, 36-26. Despite being behind for much of the contest, a late Richard Kingi solo-effort took them into a lead that they then never looked like relinquishing.
Click here to view images from the game.