2013 Season Preview: MELBOURNE REBELS

2013 Season Preview: Melbourne Rebels

2013 Season Preview: Melbourne Rebels

by Paul Cook –

The Melbourne Rebels enter their third year of Super Rugby as a firmly established side. The introduction of the Southern Kings into the competition for the 2013 season removes the tag of ‘newcomers’ from their necks and with that, comes a greater expectation for them to start delivering. Seven wins across their first two seasons as an entity is far from a paltry return but when compared to their ‘new kids on the block’ predecessors, the Cheetahs (9 wins) and the Western Force (7 wins) who were both established in 2006, there is much room for improvement.

They’ve lost over 130 test caps worth of experience with the departures of Mark Gerrard and Julian Huxley overseas and the retirements of Stirling Mortlock, Adam Freier, and Michael Lipman but with an influx of promising young talent and a roster containing Wallabies Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Nick Phipps and new addition, Scott Higginbotham, it’s time for the Rebels to cement themselves firmly on the Australian Super Rugby scene and begin to shake up the old guard of the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies.

A landmark victory over the Crusaders in 2012 set the standard, this year is all about performing to that level on a more consistent basis. If they can keep the attacking threat of Beale and O’Connor in tandem for more than they managed in their first season in Melbourne, they will go a long way to achieving their loftier ambitions. The Rebel Army is ready to march.

Gareth Delve is now in his third season Down Under, having moved from Gloucester to become a foundation member of the squad back in 2009. Capped 11 times for Wales, the affable no.8 has been named as the Rebels new captain following the retirement of Mortlock. 24yr old Mitch Inman had his best season to date in Super Rugby in 2012. Free of the injuries that had blighted his progress previously, the bustling centre excelled and will be looking to build on that breakthrough year in 2013.

Rugby News sat down with them both recently to discuss the up-coming Super Rugby season and how they intend to make their third year their best one yet.


Looking back briefly at 2012, did you feel that the Rebels made some forward strides – even if not necessarily results wise in the way you would have hoped?

Gareth Delve becomes the first overseas player to captain a Super Rugby franchise

Gareth Delve becomes the first overseas player to captain a Super Rugby franchise

Gareth Delve: “Yeah, I think we did. In terms of being the competitive team that we wanted to be from day one, we achieved that last season with some of the stand out games against the Bulls and the Crusaders, we went away to South Africa and went so close to toppling the Stormers on the final day and we maybe should have got the win against the Lions, so, we were certainly more competitive.”

Mitch Inman: “There were glimpses of some brilliance in our rugby and in our style, particularly against the Crusaders and the Bulls, where we played some really enjoyable, expansive football that we were commended on from various sources. We do have the ability to play that brand of football, we just need to do it consistently, week-in, week-out, that’s our biggest goal.”

How important was that win over the Crusaders in terms of confidence and laying down a marker?

GD: “It was huge because of how highly regarded they are and the fact that they had a lot of big guns playing that day, the Richie McCaw’s and Dan Carter’s, so it meant a lot to us. It’s also one of the few times we’ve really backed up a good performance with another one, coming on the tail of nearly beating the Bulls at home the week before. We really could have fallen flat on our face a week later but instead we took it to another level. We want that to be the line in the sand for this season because we’ve proved that we can compete against the very best.”

Third season in for the Rebels now, is this the year to really start kicking on?

MI: “For sure, we’ve got a few new players in the squad that are quite young but are a very enthusiastic bunch and we’ve brought out more quality rugby in this pre-season than last season so I think we’re on our way up and we’ll definitely win some more games. Obviously, we’re up against some teams with a big history but it doesn’t matter, there’s no excuses anymore, we want to stamp our authority, win games and play some very exciting rugby.”

GD: “We all hope so. The enthusiasm and talent that’s in the squad has been fantastic, and while we’ll miss some of the experience of some of the guys that are moving on, athletically, you get the bonus of some fresher, younger legs. That lumps a bit more pressure on the likes of Kurtley and James to step up as leaders, which they’ve shown a willingness and a desire to be, which is massive for us.”

Is the key going to be balancing that youth and inexperience with the few older heads that remain?

MI: “You do sacrifice a bit of experience with a younger squad and we’ll only see as the season goes on how they deal with the pressures that come along with playing rugby at this level. It’s certainly upped the fitness levels, we’ve had some rigorous contact sessions and everybody is now fitter, faster and stronger than before.”

GD: “The likes of KB {Beale] and ‘Rabs’ [O’Connor] have got 30-40 test caps under their belts at a very young age but I suppose we’ve all got to try and play to that level, we can’t afford to have off days because we’ve got a lot of people who are relying on us, not only the younger guys who are seeking our support to take the pressure off them but also the supporters and the coaches that have been behind us since day one. We’ve actually got to start producing the performances that repay that faith.”

2013 Melbourne Rebels Ins & Outs

2013 Melbourne Rebels Ins & Outs

Defence and set-piece are probably two areas where the Rebels needed to improve, has that been a big focus in the off-season?

GD: “It’s been a massive focus. Muggo [defence coach John Muggleton] did a great job last year but there were still times where we defended as individuals and he’s been beating the drum and making sure we stick to the processes and trust each other which, three years in now, is a big factor. We weren’t happy with where the scrum was last year and we lost a lot of crucial line outs in an attacking position so we’ve been working really hard on that as well.”

AAMI stadium has a great atmosphere and has witnessed some notable victories but only two wins away from home in two seasons is obviously not enough. Has that been discussed as well?

GD: “It’s really important, we’ve had a little bit of success over in Perth and that’s about it so far and we’re desperate to change that because we’ve come so close. We start off with three home games out of the first block of four and we do need to make AAMI Park a bit of a fortress but it means nothing if we’ve not been winning those away games. It comes down to mental strength and performing well whether we’ve got the Rebel Army behind us or not.”

You’re obviously enjoying your time with Melbourne Gareth but you must also have a belief that the Rebels can become a major force – was that your motivation for staying Down Under?

GD: “That was certainly the biggest motivation, I felt that leaving after two years where we had improved and we’d ingrained a good culture into the club, it would have been a bit premature. I’d love nothing more than to see us have real success and if that means us pushing for the play-off’s then that would be absolutely fantastic because it would be a real sense of achievement and it probably would have broken my heart to be sat on the other side of the world watching the guys do it without me. We’ve got high hopes for the squad we’ve got this season but all the work in pre-season comes to nothing if we don’t back it up when the real games start.”

And Mitch, last year was a breakthrough year for you, being part of a backline that includes the likes of Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Cooper Vuna must be a great learning experience?

A lengthy run in the starting XV last season allowed Mitch Inman to show his undoubted talents

A lengthy run in the starting XV last season allowed Mitch Inman to show his undoubted talents

MI: “I had the ability to string some games together last year and stay injury free until the end of the season and that’s when I play my best, when I’m just enjoying it and not thinking about anything else other than running around and having some fun. I’ve actually played against Kurtley since we were about 12 years of age, so I’ve known him for a long time and his style of play and I played with James at the Force as well. It was a bit hard last year because one player was out and then he’d return and somebody else was out so we just couldn’t keep those combinations consistently. If we’re all on the park every week, we can be a force to be reckoned with.”

The Australian conference looks like being hugely competitive this year given the off-season moves between players and coaches, how do you see it panning out?

GD: “It’ll be interesting to see if the Brumbies can back up, they put some great processes in last year with Jake White and Ben Mowen as skipper and obviously, David Pocock is only going to improve that although, as much as I rate him as a fantastic player, I think it’ll be more his off-field stuff and his composure under pressure which will go a long way towards the Brumbies being a better team. It will be interesting to see how the Reds cope without Will Genia for the first part of the season, he’s been fantastic for them in the past few years and a real general but they get Quade Cooper and James Horwill back from injury. It’s a stacked conference, the Tahs are always strong, it’s a fantastic list they’ve got there and you just don’t know with the Force? If everything comes together, they’ll be very tough to beat but I’d go with the Reds, Tahs and Brumbies as being the ones we’ve really got to up our game against if we’re going to get that list of wins this year.”

MI: “We’re looking to get in the top two and we’re really focusing on these first four matches against the Aussie teams and really stamping our authority. The Waratahs have got some exciting names and a new coach and they’ll be raring to prove a point, the Reds have been performing well for a number of years now, the Brumbies are on the rise and the Force will be competitive, particularly at home, so there’s going to be plenty of good, hard, physical battles between all of us.”

How about the across the competition generally – who do you like the look of in New Zealand and South Africa?

GD: “The Stormers will obviously be hurting after leading the conference all the way through and then dropping that home semi against the Sharks so I’m sure they’ll be looking to kick on, especially with Schalk Burger coming back into the mix. The Crusaders are a fantastic team, they’ll be there or thereabouts along with the Hurricanes. They had a slow start last year but were probably the form team going into the finals.”

MI: “You can’t go against the Crusaders, they tend to go well every year and the Stormers will be competitive again but I like the look of the Hurricanes too, they showed some great progress last year and they might just fly under the radar a bit this year.”


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