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For a long time, it seemed, there was a danger of it becoming a cause without a Rebel.

Wayne Smith writes for The Australian that the cause was Victorian rugby or rather, more specifically, Victorian rugby getting a seat at the table of serious Australian rugby. For many decades, it wasn’t much of a cause, with the Garden State growing no more than a couple of dozen of the 850 or so players ever to represent Australia in a Test.

Granted, some of them would become significant figures in the game and beyond — Edward “Weary” Dunlop, Stan Bissett and Ewen McKenzie to name a few — but generally speaking and from a purely rugby sense Victoria, preoccupied as it was with other pastimes, punched well below its weight.

Just when it seemed room was going to be made for it at the head table in 2005, the chair was abruptly pulled away from under it and Victorian rugby fell flat on its backside, after the Australian Rugby Union under then CEO Gary Flowers awarded the Super 14 expansion licence not to Melbourne but to Perth and the Western Force.

By way of paltry compensation, the ARU awarded Melbourne a place in the eight-team Australian Rugby Championship set up in 2007. That’s when the Melbourne Rebels Mark I came into being, a composite team pulled together from all over the country. Luke Burgess got his big break there, so too fellow Wallabies Digby Ioane, Matt Hodgson, David Dennis as well the sadly missed future Australia sevens captain and Brumby Shawn Mackay.

All in all, it was some achievement when the Rebels finished as competition runner-up, but far from this sweetening Victoria’s standing in ARU circles, it poisoned the well.

When the competition costs blew out, the Rebels, as the biggest spenders, copped most of the blame, which seemed unfair on two counts. Given that they were the only team not operating out of a state with a Super rugby franchise, their start-up costs were always going to be highest.

And it seemed unreasonable that the ARU should point the finger when that same hand had signed off on all the Rebels’ expenses.

As the boss of Victorian rugby at the time, Gary Gray drew most of the fire, which was unfortunate. It meant that the greatest advocate of Melbourne being awarded a future Super rugby licence was also the man highest on the ARU hit list.

And so when Gray and Victorian rugby began to mobilise for another bid to bring their state into the mainstream, they found themselves blocked and thwarted at every turn. “A snowflake’s chance in hell of winning the licence while Gray remains in charge,” was how one ARU heavyweight summed up their chances.

That ugly chapter in the history of Australian rugby need not be re-read but when a new week dawned yesterday, the week in which the Melbourne Rebels Mark II will make their debut as Australia’s newest Super Rugby team, Gray could have been forgiven for allowing himself a grim smile of satisfaction.

Against all odds, a consortium directly linked to the VRU and to grassroots Victorian rugby won the day. Admittedly, Gray had to step into the background somewhat, though he remains a Rebels board member. But the end goal was all that mattered. And he is the first to acknowledge there would be no Rebels had not Australia’s biggest media buyer, Harold Mitchell, and Australia’s most successful rugby coach, Rod Macqueen, thrown their weight, reputations and, in Mitchell’s case, money, behind them.

In fact, Gray’s not smiling. None of them are. Not yet. This is too anxious a time, waiting for Friday night and the Rebels’ debut Super Rugby match with the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park.

With due respects to Phil Waugh and his players, it would be the best thing to happen to Australian rugby since the Paris Test last November if the Rebels could come out at The Stockade and knock them off. It’s a huge ask against a highly talented and settled side and Macqueen publicly is expressing no higher hope than simply being competitive, but it would be a huge fillip to the game if the Rebels lived up to their name and upset the status quo.

Since October, when the Rebels came together from all points of the compass, they’ve spent a lot of time working under Macqueen to develop combinations. But Macqueen being Macqueen, that wasn’t the starting point.

His focus from the outset was to build on the bedrock of a solid Rebels culture. It’s a touchy-feely word, “culture”, when just about anyone else uses it but not so when it comes from Macqueen’s lips. When the players signed on, he actually had them sign the REBEL (Respect, Excellence, Balance, Ethos, Leadership) pledge. Once the players bought into those qualities, he figured, everything else would flow from them.

What that means in practical terms will probably only become evident over time, but when the new team gathered at Lorne to sort itself out, it was quickly decided that a set of rules governing behaviour and team standards would not be necessary. Everyone had signed the pledge. If that wasn’t sufficient, no arbitrary set of rules would work in its place.

Melbourne has embraced the Rebels — the club already has almost as many members as the Waratahs who, by the by, once beat Carlton at rugby in the 1880s but then lost to it one week later at Aussie rules — and the Rebels have reciprocated, with each player linking himself to a club, school, charity and business.

When the Rebels’ community rugby co-ordinator Josh Phillpotts decided to set up a custodian course for local coaches, Wallabies Stirling Mortlock and Adam Freier, Welsh Test number eight Gareth Delve and England Test flanker Michael Lipman helped him draw up the induction program. Former Australia halfback Sam Cordingley personally coaches half a dozen of Victoria’s best young halfbacks.

And when the Rebel Rising, effectively the club’s B team, played the Brumby Runners last week, a third of the players were from the local Melbourne club competition.

As Gray noted yesterday, all of this was meant to happen.

But it almost didn’t.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Well here it is (for those that care other than moi)…lol!

    1 Nic Henderson
    2 Ged Robinson
    3 Greg Somerville
    4 Adam Byrnes
    5 Kevin O’Neill
    6 Hoani Macdonald
    7 Michael Lipman
    8 Gareth Delve (vc)
    9 Sam Cordingley
    10 James Hilgendorf
    11 Luke Rooney
    12 Cooper Vuna
    13 Stirling Mortlock (c)
    14 Lachlan Mitchell
    15 Julian Huxley

    16 Heath Tessmann
    17 Laurie Weeks
    18 Alister Campbell
    19 Jarrod Saffy
    20 Nick Phipps
    21 Danny Cipriani
    22 Afusipa Taumoepeau

    A few interesting choices I don’t agree with… and a few youngsters (and former Wallabies) not making the match 22 but playing in the curtain raiser… and the bench is awesome…

    Cordingley has just come back from injury, no doubt there for experience… I would have included the exciting Kingi instead…

    Clearly going for bulk with McDonald, the mobile lock… Saffy should definitely be starting for some pace in that back three…

    Still missing Freier at hooker… and interestingly the super-quick Betham has been over-looked with the massive Rooney on the wing instead…

    I’ve got the star-studded Tahs by 7 or more…

    JP Du Plessis not making the grade yet… albeit he has huge competition for centre/wing…

  2. GO REBELS GO UNION

    Maybe OOmHarold and his cronies should at least try to copy the aTTitude of Rebel Admin!

    Wonder if we are going to hear some BiLLyIdol?

  3. Anyone seen this?

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/video.cfm?c_id=4&gal_objectid=10706529&gallery_id=116745

    Waratahs make fun of All Blacks and their “skills” adverts…

    Oh Lord let the All Blacks stay this arrogant…

    The crash will be so much the sweeter to see…

    I know the AB’s hate losing to Aus and England the most… and according to them losing to us and France is easiest to handle… which is why I hope we defend our championship… but that it is England or Aus that knocks them out in a quarter or semi… preferably Johnny Wilkinson with a drop goal after Graham Henry’s bragging about his side “not needing” a drop goal to win because they “score tries”

  4. Reply to DavidS @ 8:09 am:

    Waratahs have their best side I’ve seen in many a moon mate… they have the forwards this year to complement their Wallaby backs…

    Reply to DavidS @ 8:58 am:

    Hehe the Brumbies did an even more blatant piss-take of it on youtube…

    Don’t kid yourself the AB’s can handle losing to the Boks… they hate Japies more than Aussies by a long long way… half of their population practically lives here…

  5. Reply to WiLLem @ 8:32 am: ‘

    There’s one single reason these guys are so prepared in every department… even with the handicap of not being permitted to poach any players from the other Aus sides…

    And that’s because they are the first every privately owned club… and backed by proven media/sports/business tycoons that have done it all before…

    That’s exactly what the Cheetahs need imo…

  6. Reply to WiLLem @ 11:18 am:

    I stole that from someone on Voldy… cracked me up to even thought I have no idea as to it’s relevance…

    The same two Maori mates both having been to RSA twice for S14 and SWC reckoned it got all too freaky when some started talking in NZ slang, complete with Islander tats etc etc… they had to ask me exactly what the Cape Spanish and Maori’s actually had in common…

    As for the Rebels…

    Unheard of in 100yrs plus… but Melbourne quintessential AFL newspaper (the rather tacky Herald Sun) now has a Rugby Union and Super rugby section…

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/rugby-union

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