Melbourne coach Rod Macqueen’s worst fears were realised in their historic opening Super Rugby thumping at the hands of the powerhouse Waratahs.
The World Cup-winning coach was disappointed his new side failed to penetrate the NSW defence, losing 43-0, which was the first time in the competition the Waratahs had kept a side scoreless.
But even more importantly, the Rebels suffered injuries to three key players.
Five-eighth James Hilgendorf will be sidelined for at least six weeks after he suffered a serious shoulder injury in only the second minute when he was crunched by NSW hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.
He lasted until the seventh minute when he was replaced by Danny Cipriani, throwing the Rebels’ game plan into disarray.
Promising league convert centre Cooper Vuna also suffered a should injury late in the match and will undergo scans, while flanker Hoani Macdonald broke three bones in his hand and may require surgery.
Vuna is rated unlikely to play in Melbourne’s second match at AAMI Park next Friday night in another massive challenge against the Brumbies, while the other two are definitely out.
A shattered Hilgendorf, who played with NSW and the Western Force and in Japan before arriving in Melbourne, said it was an incredibly tough blow to learn he had a grade three AC joint injury.
“It’s disappointing, I put in a long pre-season and spent a long time with the boys to build up to this,” the 28-year-old said.
“That’s the way footy goes, a lot of people get injured, it’s how I come back from it I suppose.”
While flashy Cipriani offered the side some spark and pulled off a try-saving tackle early in the match on NSW fullback Kurtley Beale, the loss of the solid and steady Hilgendorf was very unsettling for the side.
“We did have a game plan and after 10 minutes everything sort of changed and went out the window so I feel for the boys a bit,” Hilgendorf said.
“We’ve just got to learn from it and build from it and hopefully next week’s a new challenge and we have to get on with it.”
Macqueen said his side were outclassed by NSW, who have been tipped as serious title contenders, but still felt his side could be competitive in the Super Rugby this season.
“I’ve got a fair bit of faith in a lot of the good things they did there to say that we will be competitive this year,” the coach said.
“You can’t go away from the fact you’re going to be judged on the scoreboard… but as coaches we can see some light at the end of the tunnel there.
“We played a very good side and we did some good things we’d been planning to do so we know what we’ve got to do to improve and we hope that we can show that sooner rather than later.”