Rebels make a 'statement' on the field after tough week
SUPER RUGBY TRIAL WRAP: The Melbourne Rebels have put aside their off-field woes to post a 38-12 victory over the Waratahs in their first hit-out of the year.
The Rebels entered voluntary administration this week but the side gave their fans at local club Moorabbin something to cheer about on Saturday, stretching their 12-5 half-time lead into a convincing Super Rugby Pacific preseason win.
Former Queensland and Wallabies lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto formed a dangerous first-half combination with youngster Josh Canham, who scored a try and set up another.
Youngster Daniel Maiava, who came on in the second row in the second half, posted a double.
Rebels General Manager of Rugby Nick Stiles said it was a solid performance at the end of a tough week.
“It’s fantastic. It’s the first trial game we’ve won in the last three years,” he said.
“With everything else that’s been going on we wanted to come out and make a statement around that.
“We’ve been so confident around the work we’ve been putting into the program for the last few years and I thought today was a reflection of how hard they’ve trained through the preseason and the depth we’ve got in the group.
“It’s only a trial game, but it’s a great starting point.”
Stiles said Salakaia-Loto, 27, was in great condition and showing great attributes after returning from English club Northampton.
“Our new head of strength and conditioning Luke Bellow has got him into career-best shape,” he said.
“It’s the fittest he’s ever been, it’s the leanest and he’s got more muscle and he’s just been an absolute leader.
“We’re really stoked with how he’s started.”
Another star recruit, Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou, played the opening 30 minutes in hot conditions and most importantly given his injury history came through unscathed.
The Waratahs, who were missing skipper Jake Gordon, also left intact with Wallabies loose forward Langi Gleeson among their try-scorers.
‘A completely different culture’
Meanwhile, Life on the road is already looking brighter for the Western Force after a late penalty earned them a 21-19 pre-season win over the Queensland Reds at their Ballymore heartland.
The Force missed the finals by one victory last Super Rugby Pacific season, despite not registering a win away from Perth.
But coach Simon Cron said the recruitment of Wallabies flyhalf Ben Donaldson, who controlled play in a 46-minute stint on Saturday, and veteran scrumhalf Nic White among others had already made an impact.
Cron joked that touring had already become easier because unlike last season, “everyone gets on”.
“We had to make a lot of changes in the organisation and lot of that’s been done now,” he said,
“It’s a completely different culture.
“The way we play, he’ll [Donaldson] get a lot of touches.
“But it’s combinations of players that change it, we can’t pin it on one guy.”
Skipper Michael Wells, who took over the role last season immediately after departing the Melbourne Rebels, said the victory in Brisbane was “the first step”.
“Credit to how Donno [Donaldson] ran the game and the standards Whitey’s driving, even though he’s at home [with a shoulder injury], it’s hard to replace,” he said.
“In terms of bringing respect to the Force, the best way to do that is winning games.
“I don’t want to be a comeback team, I want to be a team that wins from the front.”
The Force were forced to come back on Saturday after a bright start, wing recruit Harry Potter crossing twice in the first of three 30-minute periods.
The Reds ate up a 13-3 deficit with tries to Harry Wilson, Tim Ryan and Joe Brial to lead 19-13.
But the Force held them scoreless in the final period, Chase Tiatia’s left foot cross-field kick hitting try-scorer Ronan Leahy on the chest before Ian Prior’s 88th-minute penalty put them ahead.
“There’s a lot we learnt, that’s for sure,” Reds coach Les Kiss said, lamenting some poor execution and turnovers.
Irish lock Cormac Daly played 80 minutes for the Reds while Connor Vest played his first minutes since fracturing his neck last season and back-up scrumhalf Louis Werchon was sharp.
Kiss was pleased with fullbacks Jordan Petaia and Jock Campbell, while Tom Lynagh (back) is likely to get his chance at No.10 against the Waratahs next week after Lawson Creighton and Harry McLaughlin-Phillips shared the duties.
Veteran James O’Connor’s training setback (hamstring) has ruled him out of both pre-season clashes in a setback for his Round-One hopes.