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Rebels needed toughening up: Higginbotham
ESPN Staff
January 31, 2014
Scott Higginbotham says the Rebels have a good draw and are set for a successful campaign

Melbourne Rebels are poised for a breakout season under "tough" new coach Tony McGahan, with Scott Higginbotham saying "it's time for us to step up and really push up towards the top of the Australian Conference".

The Rebels have been cellar-dwellers, if not easy-beats, in their three seasons to date, but Higginbotham said they had "been improving in steps … but this year, with the team we have, we're definitely pushing for the top of the Australian Conference".

Higginbotham said in an exclusive interview with ESPNscrum that the Rebels achieved their most successful season yet last year - five wins - in spite of themselves.

"We had a number of issues last year," he said in reference to off-field incidents involving James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, most notably the disturbing punch-up on the team bus after their humiliating loss to the Sharks in Durban.

"They are things that disrupt teams; much as you like to say they don't bother you on the park, they do."

The Rebels are now without Beale and O'Connor, and operating under what is said to be a stricter disciplinary code, and Higginbotham told ESPNscrum confidently that "I don't think there will be any of that" with the new 2014 squad.

Higginbotham praised McGahan for his "tough" approach to the Rebels job, saying "that's what a group of 30 young footballers need". And he said the Rebels had responded willingly to the coach's approach on the training paddock.

"He's come in and applied some of his defensive principles, which we lacked last year … there's been a lot of contact and the boys are extremely keen to tackle someone else and not their own mates."

Higginbotham said that he and his team-mates were "very excited" about the season ahead, and also the prospect of getting on the pitch in Albury to face New South Wales Waratahs.

"We've gone through a tough pre-season - 14 weeks of just hard training," Higginbotham told ESPNscrum. "Everyone here's keen to play some football."

Watch the exclusive video interview at the top of the page to hear Scott Higginbotham talk also about his thoughts on the Rebels captaincy, and his Super Rugby and Wallabies ambitions for the year ahead.

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