The Western Force and the Melbourne Rebels are the ‘misfits who fit’ in the Australian rugby world, new Rebels coach Dave Wessels says.
Though the Rebels’ survival in 2018 ultimately came at the expense of the Force, the two teams shared an emotional journey in the Super Rugby season, during a drawn-out decision process.
After their Super Rugby match-up in Perth, the teams shared a post-match drink, clear the issue was bigger than a Rebels vs Force situation.
Even before this year, Wessels said, the teams were inextricably linked through their relative infancy in the Super Rugby competition.
“I felt a real affinity with them, I think they've been through a lot of the things we've been through the last couple of months, their fans and families and things have felt the uncertainty that we have,” he said.
“I think there was kind of a natural fit there.
“Probably being the two newer teams in Super Rugby, us and the Rebels, I think in some ways we're a little bit like the outsiders in the traditional rugby circles in Australia and that's also appealing to me here.”
High-profile Force stars Adam Coleman and Dane Haylett-Petty are believed to be among a number of players set to follow Wessels to Melbourne and the coach said more about that would be known in coming days.
“I think a lot's been made of the fact we're going to take some Force players and some Force staff, and that was a big deal because I felt like we were on a journey and we haven't finished that journey yet,” he said.
“At the same time, I think what hasn't been really said is how exciting the Melbourne list is. Being there yesterday and seeing some of those young guys in particular, they've got some really really good players and I think I'm just excited to work with those guys and the combination of the two groups will be really special.
“It's like the misfits who fit. We're just excited about that challenge.”
Though the former Force mentor is expected to bring across much of his coaching staff and upwards of six of his WA charges, Wessels said Melbourne wouldn’t simply turn into a Force 2.0.
“To be honest, at a point during the decision making process I was really conscious to say I'm really choosing to go to Melbourne for the merits of Melbourne and being there yesterday again, I was just really excited about it,” he said.
“There's some really fantastic people involved and I've known Baden Stephenson the CEO for quite a while and long before all of this happened and he's a guy that really excites me.
“He's got a great energy, I just think the club's at an exciting time now and it's been an infant for the last couple of years but it's time to grow up a little bit and I think to be a part of that journey and process will be exciting.”
Wessels has left the door open to return to Perth after the Super Rugby season in 2018, interested in the developments around Andrew Forrest’s Indo Pacific Rugby Championship.
The ARU’s working group met with Forrest in Perth earlier this week, though the developments from that are yet to be made public.