Rebels finding their DNA, wet weather kings: 5 things we learnt

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

The Rebels made it three on the bounce by smashing the Brumbies 30-12 on Friday night in the wet at Leichhardt Oval.

Here's five things we learnt from the big win.

 

1: REBELS FINDING THEIR DNA

It wasn't long ago that the Rebels - and their coach Dave Wessels - appeared to have lost their way.

The Rebels couldn't turn around their mid-season slumps in 2018 and 2019 and the wheels had well and truly fallen off by season's end. The Rebels looked fractured both on and off the field, with end of season fights, off-season departures and a shattered coach.

Their embarrassing start to the season in 2020 only intensified the feeling that all was not right in Melbourne.

Yet, all along, Wessels has been adamant that they were on the right track and that they were "building".

It's a dreaded term "building", but that is exactly what they are.

Wessels is in his third season at the club and made some history on Friday night by notching his 20th win at the Rebels - a club record.

On the field and it appears Wessels is bringing a distinct South African flavour to his side.

He's loading up his bench with forwards, regularly selecting a six-two bench split. But it's also the way the Rebels are playing, with a kick-heavy tactical approach inside their own half and a flat line in attack, which suits their Test playmaker Matt To'omua.

"I think one of the reasons we can go six-two is that we have a fair few players that have some versatility, for example, 'Pup' (Matt To'omua) easily covers 10-12, (Reece) Hodge can cover a few positions - so it gives us the flexibility to be able to do a few of those things and we feel like we're getting some of our impact off the bench carrying a second back-rower," Wessels said.

Post-game too, Wessels said that the club was moving in the right direction on and off the field.

"I always describe the Rebels as a bit of a start-up," he said.

"We are only 10 years old. There are a lot of things in our organisation that we are building and going better almost every week, almost every month, and it's not always the easiest place to be because sometimes as a start-up you're competing against more entrenched rivals that have systems in place and we don't have any of those things. We have to build them from scratch, and at the same way that's also the fun part of the job - even the team song, we had to make up our own team song - so there's things like that. That's why I like it."

2: WET WEATHER KINGS

If you go back to where the Rebels' season turned the corner and it was on a wet Friday night in Melbourne in February.

Once again it was To'omua who put on a masterclass, leading the Rebels to a 24-10 win over the Waratahs.

The Rebels dominated field position and forced the Rebels into mistakes.

Sounds familiar?

It was exactly what they did last month against the Waratahs at the SCG and they repeated the dose against the Brumbies on Friday night too.

The Rebels out-kicked the Brumbies, forced them into basic mistakes and hit very hard in defence.

It was a smart game-plan from a side finding their identity and keen not to overplay their hand, as To'omua said post-game.

"Ironically you looked at last week where the day was perfect and we probably fell into a false sense of security thinking 'rugby's on, we can play from our own half'," To'omua said.

"Whereas, today, we were quite clear from the start, 'we're going to play in the right parts of the field and then we'll shift the ball when we're down there' and I think we managed that better than we did last week. 

"So that was a good learning experience for me as a game-caller in being really clear with our plan, not getting too excited with things, particularly this time of year. It's probably not spoken about enough, we're playing Super Rugby, the back half of the year is a lot different. There's been less tries, the game is more about your contact and your field position. I thought we were lot better there tonight."

 

3: WAKE UP CALL

Last Saturday's Round Five clash between the Brumbies and Reds quite rightly spoken about as the game of the season.

Both sides showed up and put on a spectacle to match what's been served up across the ditch every week.

But the Brumbies didn't show up against the Rebels.

Put it down to complacency, the conditions, the Rebels' night out, whatever it was the Brumbies had no answers and looked miles away from being the competition's favourites.

Brumbies coach Dan McKellar credited the Rebels' game management, but didn't mince his words either.

"It's a good wake-up call," he said.

"We need to better."

The Brumbies' lackluster performance evoked memories of the Waratahs' non-showing at the SCG a fortnight ago when, having played their part in an epic against the Brumbies a week earlier, they failed to turn up against the Rebels and also copped a hiding. 

McKellar refuted the suggestion though that consistency remains an issue across the board in Australian rugby.

"Coming here tonight we were four from four," McKellar said.

"As a team we're reasonably happy, but we understand that we're not where we need to be. There's no excuses - six day turnaround, a bit of travel on game day - you've got to take your hat off to the opposition, they outplayed us. So correlations or things that we can look at in terms of why we didn't play well, there's no excuses, we just didn't play well."

4: DID SOMEBODY SAY DEPTH?

Depth continues to be one of the big discussions in Australian rugby as Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby attempt to draw up plans for 2021.

But the Rebels are letting their actions do the talking.

Their 30-12 win was the Rebels' third straight win and their most convincing of the lot.

But just as importantly is we're seeing the development of a crop of new players, particularly in the forwards.

The likes of Cameron Orr are getting better with each performance, lock Trevor Hosea looks an exciting prospect, flanker Josh Kemeny too, while Brad Wilkin is fit and was excellent against the Brumbies.

Is it a surprise that the names listed above came through the under-20s pathway?

Invest in the future.

5: CAN WE BANK ON HIM?

He was one of the unluckiest players to miss Michael Cheika's Wallabies World Cup squad and the hope was that Tom Banks would push on in 2020.

He started the season well enough.

But since the COVID-19 break Banks hasn't quite been the same.

He spilt one regulation ball against the Rebels which summed up his night, where he was twice beaten to the ball on the deck. On both occasions, the Rebels' greater urgency led to tries.

So is there something more to it?

It's understood that Banks is coming back from a foot injury, which could explain his recent struggles.

With Dane Haylett-Petty sidelined, Banks has the chance to demand the No.15 Wallabies jersey.

The next month will be interesting to see how he responds from his form woes.