Dave Wessels has mounted a passionate defence for Melbourne’s failure to reach the Super Rugby AU finals and boldly declared the Rebels can win the trans-Tasman version of the competition.

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The Rebels ultimately missed the three-team playoff series by one competition point after beating the winless NSW Waratahs 36-25 in Saturday night’s “dead rubber” in Sydney.

Wessels rued four last-minute losses and pointed out that the Rebels played almost the entire eight-round competition without up to a dozen leading players, including Wallabies stars Reece Hodge, skipper Dane Haylett-Petty and Isi Naisarani.

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“We lost four games on the last kick of the game after the hooter,” Wessels said.

“We could be sitting here with a totally different story.

“We’ve also gone through the season without nine or 10 of our most experienced players.

“So I’m really proud of the young group. I think the average number of caps in our team is 12.”

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While acknowledging professional sport was a results-based business, Rebels captain Matt Toomua said sacking the coach wasn’t the solution.

Toomua insisted Wessels retained the full support of the playing group.

“We also understand the chat around. It’s essentially people wanting results and we’re not getting them at the moment,” he said.

“But it’s a short-sighted view to think that you just change one thing and (it will be okay). It’s not the way to go forward so we’re 100 per cent behind him.

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“We’ve got to make some improvements in our program – 100 per cent – but Dave’s our guy. He’s the one we want leading us.

“The big thing for us this year was we were missing so many players, so much experience.

“It’s fine margins.”

Wessels urged the Rebels board to put the 2021 season into perspective, given the upheaval because of the pandemic.

“We didn’t train at our home base until the middle of March. We didn’t have one training session on our own field until then,” he said.

“Even now, we don’t have control over field time because we share the field with another team.

“And we don’t have our own gym because of COVID. You’re not allowed to share that space. We have to drive another 30 minutes to another gym.

“Unfortunately we missed out (on the finals) by a point – but I’m definitely proud of the effort.”

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