Rebels vs Chiefs: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Rebels have narrowly missed out on the playoffs for the second straight year after a loss to the Chiefs.

What are we talking about after the 59-8 loss?

1. Rebels let things unravel again

The Rebels controlled the Australian conference at the halfway point of the season with a two-game gap on their nearest rival.

Yet, eight weeks later, they have just two wins from their final nine games and will be spectators as the playoffs begin.

It’s an almost identical journey to that which they went on last year, where they finished ninth after a final round defeat to the HIghlanders.

Coach Dave Wessels said post-match there would be a long, hard think about every part of their program in the offseason while captain Dane Haylett-Petty said the second half fadeout showed they didn’t deserve to be in the top eight.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the Rebels’ decline in the back end of seasons, but some signs point to a psychological barrier.

Even when they were winning in the early parts of the season, they showed patchy performances and found themselves in positions where they should never have been.

When those tight wins turned into agonising defeats, things quickly unravelled.

A lopsided penalty count that turned a Johannesburg game away from them against the Lions is an obvious one that may have dented the confidence but home losses to the Bulls and Waratahs would not have helped that either.

The Rebels have a big task in 2020 to buck this worrying trend because narrowly missing finals it something that you don’t want to become a habit.

2. Ball to foot disease plagues Rebels

The Rebels have an incredibly exciting backline but they have struggled to get the most out of their attack especially in recent weeks.

After finding success with their flat attack in the opening half of the season, looking to hold onto the ball and run at almost every opportunity.

In recent weeks, they haven’t been able to get the potency and have in fact tried to adopt a more kick-heavy approach.

They were outplayed in their kicking game against the Waratahs a fortnight ago and on Friday night they were ineffective in that space too.

The Rebels have always looked most dangerous with the ball in their hands and they admitted as much themselves as they trailed 21-3 at half-time.

It was just before the break that the Rebels were able to string together a nine-phase play as they marched into their attacking zone but one simple error undid that and they were back to square one.

3. Changes afoot for 2020

This season shaped as the Rebels’ best chance yet to finally make the step into finals rugby with the roster in Melbourne one of the strongest yet.

While they will still have plenty of star power next season, there are already some big names out the door.

Former skipper Adam Coleman has already played his final game for the club after battling a shoulder injury in recent weeks.

Will Genia and Quade Cooper both hinted this week that Friday might have been their last match as well.

A host of other players are off-contract this year and yet to publicly declare their intentions, including Marika Koroibete, Tom English and Billy Meakes.

The Rebels do have plenty of young talent coming through, led by the likes of Reece Hodge, Jordan Uelese and Jack Maddocks, but this club could look quite different in 2020.

Watch this space.

4. Lienert-Brown breaks the game open

Shaun Stevenson might have taken a hat-trick but it was Anton Lienert-Brown that really sparked the Chiefs on Friday night.

Lienert-Brown has gone relatively under the radar when it comes to Test rugby, in a star-studded midfield department, but a game like that showed his damaging ability.

The outside centre finished with 19 carries, 101 metres and a try in attack, beating seven defenders along the way.

Not a bad way to help your team into the Super Rugby playoffs.

5. Cooper’s Wallabies chances slipping away

Quade Cooper’s run of form somewhat mirrors that of the Rebels. After a super start, he had close to his worst game of the year on Friday night.

Two of the playmaker’s kicks directly led to tries in the first half and though he threw his body on the line in defence, he wasn’t able to generate the attack the Rebels really needed.

Six turnovers conceded told the story of Cooper’s night, one that will not help his Test cause.

Cooper hasn’t played for the Wallabies since 2017’s June Series and this season he has become a distant third playmaker behind Bernard Foley and Christian Lealiifano.

The Rebels and many punters will be hoping Cooper opts to stay in Australian rugby next season but it seems unlikely that he will be making a World Cup run.