ESPN SCRUM

/ Super Rugby 2014

/ Features

Greg Growden

Greg Growden Greg Growden RSS FeedFeeds

After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Super Rugby Preview
Melbourne Rebels have cause for optimism - Growden
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 13, 2014
What does 2014 hold in store for Melbourne after the Rebels proved well named in 2013? © Scrum.com
Enlarge

Rebels' Super Rugby 2014 Squad

  • Cruze Ah-Nau , Eddie Aholelei, Paul Alo-Emile, Luke Burgess, Jack Debreczeni, Tamati Ellison, Tom English, Colby Faingaa, Scott Fuglistaller, Bryce Hegarty, Scott Higginbotham, Shota Horie, Mitch Inman, Sam Jeffries, Luke Jones, Tom Kingston, Max Lahiff, Pat Leafa, Sean McMahon, Ben Meehan, Jock Merriman, Lachlan Mitchell, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Jordy Reid, Angus Roberts, Alex Rokobaro, Tom Sexton, Toby Smith, Nic Stirzaker, Chris Thomson, Lopeti Timani, Telusa Veainu, Laurie Weeks, Jason Woodward.
  • Rebels' Super Rugby 2014 fixtures

The Rebels are happy to have put last year's drama behind them after saying goodbye to Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Cooper Vuna and naming Scott Higginbotham as the captain for 2014, but they have to continue working hard and to improve their defence if they are to claim a higher place on the table. Greg Growden says says the Rebels are bound to improve under the leadership of Tony McGahan and Scott Higginbotham, but the major progress may still be 12 months away.

Last Season: 11th overall, fourth in Australian Conference; gradually growing as a side, the Rebels moved up one place from their 2012 finish despite several off-field dramas affecting their season, most notably the infamous Durban bus ride. The Rebels also had to make do with the loss of Kurtley Beale to suspension and rehab, as well as O'Connor, Higginbotham and Cooper Vuna to injury. But they came away from the season with some positives after recording their first wins over New South Wales Waratahs and the Stormers as well as their storming finish to the campaign in overcoming a 24-point half-time deficit to beat the Highlanders in the final round.

Greg Growden said of the Rebels in 2013: "What hope have you got when players are fighting each other on away tours, two are forced to return in disgrace from South Africa, and even a respected captain gets decked? And they were some of the season highlights. Read more ...

Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the Australian Super Rugby conference

Key Man: Scott Higginbotham was unlucky to miss out on the final two rounds of the Super Rugby season through injury, but he returns to the side as captain for the 2014 season having impressed and matured in a stand-in capacity last year. He scored six tries having started 14 matches to be a lay down misere for the Rebels Players' Player award. He is a strong leader who will be integral to the Rebels side this year both as a player and in establishing a fresh and strong culture after all that went wrong in 2013.

Key Stat: The Rebels certainly know how to find the stripe, their 44 tries last season bettered only by the Chiefs, Crusaders, Brumbies and Waratahs; and their forwards were prolific, combining for 18 - a tally that only the Crusaders and the Sharks topped. But their defence leaked sieve-like in 2013, conceding 65 with 22 scored by opposition fullbacks and wingers. That combined figure (22) was six worse than any other team, while no rivals conceded more than six tries to a fullback, suggesting they must retain better structure to cover better the full width of the pitch.

Rising Star: Tom English enjoyed a breakthrough 2013, scoring five tries in nine appearances, including seven consecutive starts after impressing in his run-on debut against the Crusaders in Canterbury, to win the Rebels' Rookie of the Year award. The former Australia Sevens player combines brute strength with pace and an innate ability to find the line, and we expect his star to shine brighter again in 2014.

Super Rugby 2014: Team-by-team

© SANZAR (Image Supplied)

Season Preview: The Rebels now lack star power in the backline after releasing O'Connor and Beale, but equally they are confident the circus left town with that pair. They have a young and relatively inexperienced roster playing for a new coach, and this season, whatever the public pronouncements of their ambitions, should be about producing stability and foundations that enable growth, development and a move up the table.

Greg Growden's verdict:The Rebels last year were a complete rabble, and there was no more embarrassing moment during the season than when the Rebels on tour in South Africa decided to show what a fragmented mess they were with a brawl on the team bus. Serial offender Kurtley Beale, along with Cooper Vuna and Gareth Delve were at the centre of the scuffle after a loss, prompting officials to send players home in disgrace while answering questions about team management's ability to control their players. Not surprisingly a massive cleanout occurred at the end of the season, with the team's two biggest names - Beale and James O'Connor - leaving, together with the head coach Damien Hill. The Rebels squad now lacks the big names of 2013, but it will at least be a happier band and could easily surprise. Their new coach, Tony McGahan, is a shrewd operator, and there is no doubt he will improve the brand even if it may take him a season or so to find his footing. He has the right leader in Scott Higginbotham, who, like McGahan, doesn't stand any nonsense, and he has recruited wisely, luring midfielder Tamati Ellison from New Zealand and back-rower Lopeti Timani from the Waratahs. As long as their defence improves - it couldn't get any worse than last year - they are destined to rise up the ladder. But that may occur in 2015 rather than 2014.

Tip: Fourth in Australian Conference. Finish: Thirteenth


The top ESPNfootytips Super Rugby tipster at the end of the home and away season wins $A2000, with the runner-up claiming $A1000. We also have a pair of Gold Class movie tickets for each weekly winner.

Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Football

  • Cricket

  • Rugby

    • Days
    • Hrs
    • Mins
    • Secs

    F1 - Australian GP

  • OtherLive >>

    Golf - Joburg Open
    Golf - Honda Classic
    Tennis - Dubai Championships
    Tennis - Mexican Open
  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Football

    Mourinho hails team effort after League Cup win

    Jose Mourinho has praised his Chelsea squad after beating Tottenham to lift the League Cup, reserving special praise for those who did not feature in Sunday's Wembley final

  • Football

    League Cup win start of something special - Terry

    Captain John Terry believes Chelsea's "massive" League Cup final win over Tottenham could be the start of something special for the club

  • Formula 1

    Mercedes taking 'glass half empty' approach to Melbourne

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says Mercedes cannot afford to be arrogant about its perceived advantage from the winter at the Australian Grand Prix

  • Golf

    England's Andy Sullivan storms to Joburg Open victory

    England's Andy Sullivan claimed his second European Tour title in Johannesburg in the space of eight weeks on Sunday, carding a closing 66 to win the Joburg Open

  • Formula 1

    Mercedes will lock out front row easily in Australia - Vettel

    Sebastian Vettel believes there will be a close fight for third on the grid at the first race in Australia but reckons Mercedes has the front row of the grid secure already

  • Rugby

    Grandmaster Schmidt gives England reality check

    Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin

  • Rugby

    Saint-Andre's France future in the balance

    With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards

  • Rugby

    Italian bulldozers wreck Scotland revival talk

    They came to Murrayfield looking to put down a marker, but Scotland were sent home with their tails between their legs, writes Tristan Barclay

  • Week in Words

    Giroud gets emotional

    In the latest edition of ESPN's Week in Words, Olivier Giroud gets emotional, Dimitar Berbatov is a bit smug, Arsene Wenger is hurting and Rory McIlroy is "p***** off"

  • Formula 1

    I didn't get here by being 'the son of'

    ESPN sat down with Toro Rosso rookie Carlos Sainz in Barcelona to talk his rookie year, escaping his famous father's shadow and the step up to the big league in 2015

  • News
  • Features
Sponsored Links
Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income
Make $170 in 60 seconds!
Google Vs Facebook, 60 sec. knock out! Choose a champion, Become a Winner!
Make $25 in 1 Minute!
Start trading with the biggest broker! Register now to receive $25 for FREE!