The Rebels are poised to break their finals duck. Wessels says achievement would be just as significant

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

It might be a Super Rugby season like never before but Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels believes a maiden finals appearance would be just as significant for the club were the competition still operating as per usual with 15 teams.

With four rounds remaining, the Rebels are well positioned to finish in the top three and qualify for the Super Rugby AU finals on the back of three straight victories and sit in second spot on 14 points.

A win over the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday night would see them leap ahead of the Brumbies, who have the bye, and move to the top of the standings. 

It leaves the Rebels poised to break their finals duck and Wessels believes that such a feat, particularly given the Rebels have had play to play away from home for the entirety of Super Rugby AU, shouldn't be downplayed even if the achievement has come without playing foreign opposition.

"I think only the Crusaders in the history of Super Rugby have had to play a season away," Wessels said.

"Our goal is to win this comp and people thought that was funny when I said that after round one when we were prevented from training and having to move around and all sorts of stuff. We were serious about it then and we're serious about it now. That remains our goal and, if we're able to do that, very few teams in Super Rugby would have had to overcome the challenges that we've had to be successful and that's our goal.

"Comparing past years, that doesn't really make sense.

"Sometimes people criticise us and the gap between the Kiwi teams, well we played one Kiwi team away and we beat them in Dunedin.

"People can make those comparisons but it's not really valid."

The Rebels head north to Brisbane on Saturday to play a Reds side with plenty to prove after consecutive losses, including last week's embarrassing defeat to the Waratahs where they leaked 38 points in the first-half and eventually went down 45-12.

With only three points separating second and fourth, Wessels said his coaching team had worked hard to ensure that no complacency had crept into his side particularly after their own impressive 30-12 win over the Brumbies. 

"We've prepared well for the Reds," he said.

"I think the assistant coaches have shown a real humility and been able to put themselves in the Reds' shoes.

"Sometimes when you win and you perform well it's much harder to see things that you're not doing well because you tend to gloss over them, but I think the assistant coaches have done a really great job at looking at pressure points where the Reds might see opportunities against us and making sure we turn the tables on them and do things that are a little bit unexpected for them and put the pressure back on them."

Reds coach Brad Thorn has tweaked his side after their lackluster performance, promoting halfback Tate McDermott and openside flanker Fraser McReight to the starting side, which sees captain Liam Wright shift to the blindside.

The Reds will also be lifted by the return of Test back Jordan Petaia, who returns after missing last week's loss following the shock death of his father.

Wessels said their additions would help the Reds in the contact area, but added that the Rebels would target their opponents lineout which faltered badly against the Waratahs.

"I think that the backrow gives them some threats in the contact area, but where it takes away from them is in the lineout having a shorter back-row and that's an area they're struggling a little bit and we'd like to put some pressure on them around lineout time," Wessels said.

"Again, I think the way that we play can cause teams a lot of trouble and has done so consistently for a while, and what we have to do is we have to be the best version of ourselves."