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Super Rugby Preview: Rebels

11th February 2014 05:54

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Scott Higginbotham Rebels training 2014

Key player: Scott Higginbotham

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon, we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Melbourne Rebels!

A tough year both on and off the field has left the Rebels with a new head coach and without two star Wallabies in 2014. But is that a good thing?

Last year: Barring Super Rugby newbies, the Kings, the Rebels were guilty of the worst defence last season as they conceded a whopping 515 points that included 65 tries. No team can expect to finish anywhere near the business end of the standings with that kind of weak barrier and it will not surprise that they ended 2013 in twelfth spot.

It all started brightly with a victory over Australian rivals the Western Force but then came losses to the Brumbies, Waratahs, Reds, Sharks and Cheetahs. By that point the writing was on the wall. The Rebels did have box office players like Kurtley Beale but off-field events in South Africa - where it was alleged Beale had a fight with wing Cooper Vuna on the team bus - hinted that things weren't cosy within in the Melbourne group.

Another big name, James O'Connor, also failed to live up to his high profile move in 2012 as the Rebels got a total of 21 games from him and 14 from Beale in their two-year stints. The Rebels improved by one win from 2012.

This year: Losing the likes of Ged Robinson, Gareth Delve, Nick Phipps, James O'Connor, Cooper Vuna and Kurtley Beale of course stands out when looking at the coming term. Robinson and Delve were consistent performers for the Melbourne side and while Beale and O'Connor had their baggage, when on form they could unlock defences in a flash.

Luke Burgess will step in for Phipps at scrum-half while the arrivals of Tom Kingston and Telusa Veainu cushion the absence of Vuna, with Jason Woodward having made the right noises from full-back in 2013. It is the tight five and fly-half that I have concerns over though and we will see in their opening matches against the Cheetahs and Force - an ideal start - whether that will hinder them this year. If the early signs aren't good, then the Crusaders, Waratahs and Brumbies will punish them, which may damage their confidence.

Tony McGahan has a job on his hands after taking over from Damien Hill but we can't see any improvement on 2013's twelfth spot when they were seventeen points off the top six.

Key players: Six tries in fourteen games before he suffered an injury make back-row Scott Higginbotham the key player at the Rebels this season. Named captain after Gareth Delve's departure to Japan, 2014 promises to be a strong year for Higginbotham both in Super Rugby and for the Wallabies. His size and athleticism will hurt rivals while the arrival of Tamati Ellison plugs holes left by departing players and he will need to lead this backline.

Noteworthy signings: Max Lahiff (London Irish), Toby Smith (Chiefs), Tom Sexton (Leinster), Colby Fainga'a (Brumbies), Lopeti Timani (Waratahs), Tamati Ellison (Highlanders), Tom Kingston (Waratahs), Telusa Veainu (Crusaders)

Noteworthy losses: Nic Henderson (retired), Ged Robinson (Highlanders), James King (released), Tim Davidson (retired), Jarrod Saffy (US Bressane), Gareth Delve (NEC Green Rockets), Nick Phipps (Waratahs), James Hilgendorf (released), James O'Connor (London Irish), Richard Kingi (Stade Franšais), Cooper Vuna (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Kimami Sitauti (released), Kurtley Beale (Waratahs)

Prospects: Only three franchises have a shot of topping the Australian conference and the Rebels aren't one of them. Expect another battle down at the basement for the Melbourne outfit with a dash of high spots along the way, as Higginbotham and Ellison lead by example. Although pre-season has gone well, the Rebels simply don't have the resources to consistently get results that would challenge the Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs.

Fixtures:

Week 2: Bye
Feb 28: v Cheetahs, home
Mar 8: v Force, away
Mar 14: v Crusaders, home
Mar 21: v Waratahs, away
Mar 28: v Brumbies, home
Apr 4: v Highlanders, away
Apr 12: v Chiefs, away
Apr 18: v Force, home
Week 11: Bye
May 2: v Sharks, home
May 9: v Hurricanes, home
May 17: v Reds, away
May 23: v Waratahs, home
May 31: v Brumbies, away
June 27: v Reds, home
Jul 4: v Lions, away
Jul 11: v Bulls, away

By Adam Kyriacou

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PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Crusaders1651
3Sharks1650
4Brumbies1645
5Chiefs1644
6Highlanders1642
7Hurricanes1641
8Western Force1640
9Bulls1638
10Blues1637
11Stormers1632
12Lions1631
13Reds1628
14Cheetahs1624
15Melbourne Rebels1621
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PosTeamPPts
1Waratahs1658
2Brumbies1645
3Western Force1640
4Reds1628
5Melbourne Rebels1621
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PosTeamPPts
1Crusaders1651
2Chiefs1644
3Highlanders1642
4Hurricanes1641
5Blues1637
South African Conference
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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624