What did we learn from the Rebels' loss to the Blues?
1. Are Aussie sides really this bad?
Yes it was a tight contest but the fact of the matter is on Saturday afternoon the highest-ranked Australian team was beaten by the lowest-ranked Kiwi side. The Rebels have failed to beat a New Zealand side at all this year, from three attempts and they are yet to face the Chiefs or the Crusaders - the two biggest New Zealand threats. While there may be conjecture as to whether Melbourne is the best Aussie team, they sat at the top of the conference coming into the match and couldn’t get the job done against a one-win Blues team.
2. Defence deserted
The Rebels have heralded their strong defence in recent weeks but that effort dissipated in Auckland. They had 18 missed tackles before half-time, to the Blues’ three, finishing with 30 overall. Sloppy defence opened up opportunities for the Blues and will frustrate Rebels coach Tony McGahan. That they managed to stay in the game despite that ledger was a tick for the side but those statistics wouldn’t be forgiven nearly as easily against better sides.
3. Stopping the flow
Momentum is critical in rugby and the Rebels seem to struggle to stop it. It looked positive early but once the Blues got a roll on, they never looked like losing that flow. The Blues had an answer to almost everything the Rebels threw at them, with only some accurate kicking from Jack Debreczeni keeping Melbourne’s score ticking over.
As Sefa Naiavalu broke away for an incredible 95-metre try scoring run in the 65th minute, it was hard to comprehend that the winger has been on the comeback trail from injury. He brings an X-Factor and lethal edge to the Rebels attack, something they desperately need. His opportunistic run gave his side a crucial bonus point.
5. Wheel of fortune turns away from Rebels
The Rebels have had a luckless run of injuries this season and that continued pre-game with the late withdrawal of Lopeti Timani with a quad injury. TImani has been one of the unheralded players in the Rebels season so far and another injury is a headache they really don’t need.