High and low: Melbourne Rebels players bring down Waratah Kurtley Beale in Albury on Saturday. Photo: Border MailDefence has been the catchcry of the Melbourne Rebels all pre-season under new coach Tony McGahan.
After three seasons where they were shown up – badly at times – against some of the harder teams, the goal was to shore up the leaky defensive line but to do it aggressively by lifting the number of turnovers they snare at the breakdowns.
Saturday’s trial against NSW Waratahs in 40-degree heat in Albury was the team’s first chance to see if McGahan’s tough regime had had an effect.
After two minutes the old cracks seemed to be worryingly present when Waratahs half-back Brendan McKibbin ran through to score without being touched.
He converted the try as the Rebels were left looking for answers to a lapse of concentration, which given only two minutes from the opening whistle could not be blamed on the scorching conditions.
”That was disappointing” skipper Scott Higginbotham said. ”We obviously talked about defence and how much we put into defence during the pre-season so that was a tough one.
”But it’s a trial, the first trial, it was a bit of a lapse in concentration and you could see that we felt our way through the game and the defence really came on in the second half.”
But they regrouped and while they did concede some soft tries, they also shored up their defence – keeping the Waratahs tryless for 30 minutes mid-game while showing that they were not going to back down from being adventurous in attack. The Rebels scored five tries to Tom English, Jason Woodward, Ben Meehan, Bryce Hegarty and Mitch Inman to edge NSW 33-28.
It was enough for McGahan to see promise for the season.
”We’re really happy to get the result but really delighted for the players who put a lot of hard work in,” McGahan said.
In good news for the Rebels, skipper Scott Higginbotham played solidly in his first game back from a shoulder injury that ruined last season, setting up a try to Meehan with a clever kick.
”That was hopefully the hottest game I will play this year,” Higginbotham said. ”I went all right. It’s been seven months since I played and I just wanted to feel my way back into it and I felt like I did that but plenty more to go and I’ve got a long way to go.
”I think the team went well. We started a bit slowly but that’s to be expected in the first trial.”
■Benji Marshall has made an encouraging start to his Super Rugby career, getting through 40 minutes for the Blues in his first game of rugby union in more than a decade.
The former West Tigers and Kiwis rugby league star played the opening two quarters at five-eighth in the Blues’ 38-35 pre-season loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday in Masterton. There was no sign of nerves from Marshall, who distributed the ball well, made the odd run at the line and took on the responsibility of re-starts and kicking for touch.
Marshall tried his trademark sidestep once – and met the considerable force of Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea.
But mostly, he was content sticking to basics and getting a feel for his new position.
”I didn’t set the game on fire but, in terms of trying to get control and feel for playing 10, everything I wanted to get I got out of it,” said a happy Marshall.
Blues coach John Kirwan was pleased with Marshall’s first hitout.
”I think (first-five) is his position,” said Kirwan.
”He certainly put his hand up today so we’ll put him out there again next week and we’ll just keep working on him. It was a good start.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.