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A few columns back I wrote about how the Melbourne Rebels’ promising start to the season should be approached with cautious optimism. While they were winning, they needed to be.
Most of their early season fixtures were either at home or against some pretty ordinary opposition or, in several cases, both.
But while the old cliche of ‘you can only beat who’s in front of you’ was thrown around plenty, their first real test was always going to be their Round 7 clash with the Hurricanes – a test they flunked pretty spectacularly, giving up 50 points to a ‘Canes team that really appeared to punch-out with 20 minutes still on the clock.
The frustrating thing about that Rebels performance – and the bizarre loss to the Waratahs in Round 5 – is that we are now in Round 8 of Super Rugby and still nobody really knows if the Rebels are good, poor or anywhere in between.
For all the star-power in the Rebels’ roster and the backline, in particular, it’s difficult to see them ever catching fire while Jack Debreczini is the chief playmaker. In addition to being at fault for a couple of critical errors which lead to floodgate-opening Hurricanes tries last weekend, Debreczini was completely unable to bring the Rebels’ attacking weapons into the game.
Star winger Marika Koroibete racked up the grand total of zero run metres from zero carries.
But hey, playmakers are few and far between, it’s not like there are any 70 Test-capped veteran No. 10’s just running around in Brisbane club rugby.
Unlike the Rebels, the Waratahs appear to be at least trending in the right direction. They still sit behind the Rebels in the Australian Conference standings, but have just the one loss to their name – albeit a horribly insipid one in Buenos Aires.
The ‘Tahs accounted for the perpetually-stuck-in-second-gear Brumbies last weekend in Canberra and can now look forward to a for-and-against-boosting trip to Japan to face the Sunwolves.
Kurtley Beale has been cleared to start for the Waratahs after shaking off a niggling rib injury and, while Beale is still yet to really light it up this season, perhaps Saturday is the day, especially if the Sunwolves are as put off by the prospect of facing an in-form Israel Folau as Izzy is about the thought of gay people being happy.
The Brumbies don’t get much airtime in this column and that won’t change this week. The men from Canberra are about as exciting to watch as a Dean Elgar half-century. Their only wins to date have come at home to a Sharks team that doesn’t travel well and away to the win-less Sunwolves.
Instead, we’ll focus on Brad Thorn’s resurgent Reds side who come to town on a high despite a loss at their last start. They’ve also received a boost with Taniela Tupou escaping suspension for his late shot on Stormers’ winger Craig Barry.
There appears to be a newfound willingness to grind within this Queensland side. It’s hard to picture any Reds side from the past half-decade fighting back – away in South Africa – to secure a bonus point with the game already beyond them result-wise.
Much like the Brumbies, the Reds are not exactly a pretty watch just yet – they may never be under Thorn. But for now, they’re winning more than they’re losing so that much should be celebrated.