/ 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.

The Growden Report
Rebels, Waratahs show value of fire and brimstone
Greg Growden
March 3, 2014
Melbourne Rebels impressed in defeating the Cheetahs (video available only in Australia)

Hard love is working at Melbourne Rebels and New South Wales Waratahs this year, and easily the two most rousing performances of the second Australian round of the Super Rugby tournament came from teams renowned in the past for taking the easy route if it were provided. It's amazing what old-fashioned fire and brimstone, and a dollop of discipline, can do to transform a football team.

Last year, the Rebels should have been called the Rabble. How divided and ego-driven the province had become was there for all to see when Rebels players, after losing a game in South Africa, fought among themselves on the team bus. This was the final sign the Rebels were a franchise out of control. They had no discipline on the field, and it was party time off the field. Buck-passing was rampant.

To the Rebels' credit, they did something about it in the off-season; they got rid of the riff-raff in the playing ranks, and said goodbye to numerous under-performing managerial and coaching staff members.

Their best move was bringing in Tony McGahan as head coach. After a successful career in Europe, McGahan, during his time as Robbie Deans' assistant at the Wallabies, adopted a real hands-on role with the Test players. It was clear during his Wallabies days that he didn't stand for too much nonsense. He is following the same line at the Rebels. The players have quickly discovered their focus had to change, and no corners will be cut. It showed in the team's first game of the season, when they enjoyed a feisty victory over the Cheetahs.

The transformation was obvious.

At last the Rebels had a purpose, a game plan, and they performed like an ensemble. Most pleasing, they now know how to tackle. Their defence no longer revolves around cardboard cutouts.

The other smart move at the Rebels?


Giving Scott Higginbotham the responsibility of running the on-field show. He is a consummate leader. He has authority. He has a presence. And he leads from the front.

As encouraging is the fact the Rebels are being smart in the marketing area. It is hard to get any recognition in an AFL-obsessed city, but their advertisements in recent weeks, having cheeky digs at Buddy Franklin, have worked. The campaign upset some. It got a reaction. It got their name back in the Melbourne media. More of it.

The Waratahs don't have to worry about recognition in their city's press; for decades, they have had an obsessive love-hate relationship with each other. But the publicity, which has so often revolved around how the Waratahs have constantly wasted their vast resources through inept leadership, is bound to improve this season if their coach, Michael Cheika, continues to get his way.

For too long, the Waratahs resembled a cushy private men's club. Standards were slack, and several head coaches appeared too scared to take on senior players who had too much of a say in how the team was run. Not surprisingly, in recent seasons their match preparation slackened right off - especially with some of the older players questioning the logic of over-exerting at training. So the Waratahs earned a reputation as one of the more unfit teams in the competition, often falling away in the final minutes of games.

Cheika has done something about that. He has basically flogged them during the off-season. They are now fit, and firing at end of matches, as shown in their first two wins against Western Force and Queensland Reds.

Cheika is also right in their face, and many people tune into the Waratahs' televised matches just to watch the pre-match antics of Cheika. Saturday night was a classic. He was gesticulating, almost slapping some players a la Roy Masters, and even waved around a mysterious "Poker Face" sign. The players then charged out and had the game won by half-time.

Rugby is poker, and so far the Rebels and Waratahs are producing the winning cards.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Formula 1

    Rosberg fastest as Hamilton has engine trouble

    Nico Rosberg set the fastest time in the opening practice session at the Malaysian Grand Prix as Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton had his session cut short by an engine problem

  • Formula 1

    Hamilton blocked from novelty helmet change

    Lewis Hamilton appears to be the first victim of the FIA's controversial helmet ban after being blocked from wearing a novelty lid in Malaysia

  • Rugby

    Sevens dates confirmed for Rio 2016

    Rugby Sevens will make its Olympic debut on August, 6, 2016, after the Rio 2016 Organising Committee released the daily competition schedule to mark 500 days to go.

  • Rugby

    Reds making play for Brad Thorn - report

    Brad Thorn might be returning to Super Rugby in 2016, with a report that Queensland Reds are looking to create a "player-coaching role" for him

  • Rugby

    SANZAR delays appeal into Steyn's not guilty verdict

    SANZAR has lodged an appeal against the outcome of its own judicial hearing of a dangerous tackle charge against Sharks centre Francois Steyn

  • Rugby

    Unsavoury sledging did not end with Potgieter

    Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports

  • Rugby

    Super Rugby preview, team news, line-ups: Round 7

    Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks

  • Formula 1

    Storm clouds gather in Malaysia

    Will Mercedes dominate again? Can anybody catch up with the help of a rainstorm? And will the Red Bull/Renault relationship tear itself apart? All those questions and more will be answered at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix

  • Formula 1

    Alonso: More questions than answers

    Maurice Hamilton pieces together what we know from the Fernando Alonso crash and explains why the latest answers raise more questions

  • Rugby

    Attacking revolution won't be repeated at World Cup

    John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year

  • News
  • Features
  • Inside Boxing

    'I've sparred with Klitschko and Fury - now I want Joshua'

    Unbeaten heavyweight Dillian Whyte, 28, (14-0, 11 KOs) tells ESPN where his rivalry with Anthony Joshua stems from and outlines the plan for his career this year after returning from a doping ban in November

  • UFC

    Top 10 best UFC fighters of all time

    Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner

  • Ask Steven

    Home front

    Who was the first Briton to win the British Grand Prix?

  • Ask Steven

    Pointless drivers

    Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?

  • Ask Steven

    Home favourites

    How many F1 drivers have had one win, but done it at their home Grand Prix?

Sponsored Links

Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income