What can we take out of the Rebels' loss to the Highlanders?
1. Reality check
The Rebels came into the match against the Highlanders with the best record in their history but that was put firmly into perspective against the reigning champions. The Highlanders showed them exactly what it takes to beat a finals side and will leave the Rebels with plenty to concentrate on. The upside is they have plenty of opportunity to improve and currently sit second in the Aussie conference, with a buffer over the Waratahs, conveniently their next opponent.
2. Mistakes cost Rebels
As hard as the Rebels fought, they were battling against themselves as much as the Highlanders through the game. Fumbled balls and hospital passes hurt them when they had chances, coughing up opportunities to the Kiwis. The visitors snatched even the smallest sniff of a score, rubbing salt in Melbourne’s wound. Seventeen turnovers to the Highlanders’ 13 looked minor but the Rebels’ all came at critical times, and more times than not turned into an opposition score.
3. Shipperley showing glimpses
There wasn’t much chance for the Rebels in space on Saturday night but generally when there was it was Dom Shipperley who found it. The former Queensland Reds flyer is warming into the season and once again made an impact in Melbourne. Made 87 metres, the most of any of his teammates, though three turnovers were costly.
4. Kicking the key
The Highlanders destroyed the Waratahs kicking into their hands all night last week and it was similar against the Rebels. It was a Lima Sopoaga chip kick set up a Jack Wilson try in the 57th minute, and the Kiwis made 734 kick metres to the Rebels’ 486. It ultimately proved the difference in the game, with the Highlanders dominating territory and the scoreboard.
Tony McGahan said this week that he felt the Highlanders might just be better than they were last year. After an opening loss to the Blues, they haven’t skipped a beat. Aussie fans seeing them first hand in the past fortnight might certainly be inclined to agree with the Rebels coach. With the Western Force to come next week, they’ll be looking for an Aussie hat-trick.