'When you're the Melbourne Rebels you're always the underdog': Wessels turns focus on Reds, Tupou

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels has embraced the "underdog" tag in the lead up to his side's qualifying final against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Saturday night, saying "everything that's happened so far suits us down to the bone".

He also not-so-subtly turned the attention on the Reds' biggest threat, stating "everybody knows Taniela Tupou is the most penalised guy in Super rugby in 2020".

While the Reds carved up the Brumbies in their match of the regular season, the Rebels had to wait until the very last kick of the game against the Western Force to book their maiden finals berth last weekend.

The stark contrast in the way the two sides warmed up to the qualifying final has seen the Reds close to $1.35 favourites to progress to their first final since 2011.

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Speaking at his team announcement on Thursday morning, Wessels, who for the second time in his coaching career has faced questions about the future of his franchise, said that the Rebels' entire existence was built on being the "underdog" and that his side was happy to be thought of as $3.25 outsiders.

"When you're the Melbourne Rebels you're always the underdog, that's the whole way we exist," Wessels said.

"That's the thing I love most about the club is that you've got to scrap and fight for everything, and that's what makes it so rewarding that when you have little successes it feels wonderful and that's a real motivator for the team.

"I think we've got a group of people that have elected in a lot of ways to take the path less traveled, that's just the decisions that they've made and how they want to play their rugby.

"Everything that's happened so far suits us down to the bone."

 

The Reds delivered their finest performance of 2020 last week as they beat the minor premiers 26-7 in Brisbane.

Their dominance continued the rise under Brad Thorn, whose youth policy is now showing real signs of paying off after a couple of years of pain since taking over as head coach in the lead up to the 2018 season.

Wessels acknowledged the Reds' momentum, but continued to heap the pressure on his opponents in the lead up to their knockout match.

"The Reds are really playing well at the moment, I think they've got a lot of momentum going into the game so I'm sure they'll be pleased with that," he said.

"But sport's got a short memory, people forgot already that three or four games ago they lost 45 something to the Wararahs.

"Every game of sport is a new contest, you've got 80 minutes the score is 0-0 when you take the field and nothing is pre-determined.

"We feel confident about our prep and we feel confident about our ability to play well at Suncorp, which we've done a number of times over the years."

Indeed the Rebels' record against the Reds under Wessels is a good one, winning six of their previous nine fixtures.

But in Super Rugby AU the Reds won their most recent clash 19-3, while they finished with a draw in their opening match in Sydney back in July.


Wessels said that the Reds did however pose a greater threat with openside flanker Fraser McReight in the side and has opted to take their opponents on at the breakdown by selecting two fetchers himself, with Brad Wilkin joining Richard Hardwick in the back-row.

"We think that the Reds back-row's is probably their primary threat, so we've elected to play two sevens there," Wessels said.

"Some of the stuff that they've done around the breakdown that gives them a lot of energy. I think Fraser McReight has made a big difference to their team since he's started to have a regular starting spot. 

"We've flagged to the referee that there's some stuff around the breakdown that we want them to keep an eye on.

"We definitely picked two sevens to put some pressure on the ball ourselves. I think Brad Wilkin's playing really well, Dickie Hardwick probably had the best game I've ever seen him play last week so it's very hard to not pick those guys."

The breakdown isn't the only area that Wessels has flagged to the referees.

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Referee Nic Berry has also been told to be on alert for Tupou's scrummaging work, which has once again resurfaced in the headlines after Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa and coach Dan McKellar questioned the tight-head's legality at the set-piece.

"Over the years I've never really taken to speaking about the refs in public and I think the reason for that is I genuinely realise that they're trying the best," Wessels said, who also revealed that he had spoken to England coach Eddie Jones in the lead up to his first finals appearance as a professional coach.
 
"There are some definite trends in the way the Reds play.
 
"Everybody knows Taniela Tupou is the most penalised guy in Super Rugby in 2020.
 
"We want to paint pictures that help the ref make the right decisions in those areas.
 
"Taniela is a very good player and when he does things legally and right we're happy to have a fair contest with him, that's all we're asking for. We have to play our part in that.

"He can also be very dominant, so the thing is we have to paint the right pictures so that if he doing something that's not legal that the referee's able to interrupt that. You tricked me into to talking about the refs."

Statistics tell a slightly different story though.

Tupou was the most penalised player (10) in Super Rugby before COVID-19 ended the regular season. 

He is currently the second most penalised player (15) behind Brumbies loose-head prop Scott Sio (16), according to the Fox Sports Lab.

But interestingly, Tupou has only been penalised twice at the scrum compared to Sio's 14 times.

Where Tupou has been pinged is across the field, where he has been penalised at the ruck (four), general play (five), foul play (four) and scrum (two).

TEAMS

REDS (1-15): Harry Hoopert, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright (c), Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O'Connor, Filpo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Jordan Petaia, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jock Campbell

Reserves: Alex Mafi, JP Smith, Jack Straker, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Angus Scott-Young, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Hunter Paisami

Ins: Alex Mafi, Jack Straker

Outs: Josh Nasser, Ruan Smith

REBELS (1-15): Cameron Orr, Jordan Uelese, Jermaine Ainsley, Matt Philip, Trevor Hosea, Brad Wilkin, Richard Hardwick, Isi Naisarani, Frank Lomani, Matt To'omua, Marika Koroibete, Bill Meakes, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Dane Haylett-Petty (c)

Reserves: Efitusi Ma'afu, Cabous Eloff, Matt Gibbon, Michael Stolberg, Rob Leota, Theo Strang, Andrew Deegan, Campbell Magney

Ins: Andrew Kellaway, Rob Leota, Theo Strang, Campbell Magnay

Outs: Michael Wells, James Tuttle, Tom Pincus, Lachie Anderson

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