The Melbourne Rebels want more respect and plan on securing it with a historic first-time playoffs appearance after seizing charge of their Super Rugby AU finals fate.
A 38-32 bonus-point loss to the NSW Waratahs on Saturday night was sufficient for the Rebels to claim the inside running in the race for the third and last finals spot behind the Brumbies and Queensland Reds.
The Rebels must beat the winless Western Force by four points or more in Newcastle on Saturday to qualify for the finals for the first time since entering Super Rugby in 2011.
Locked out of Victoria for the entire 10-round competition, the Rebels are the road warriors who crave more credit.
“I’m quite pleased with the resilience of the group,” said coach Dave Wessels.
“We’re effectively into a quarter-final now so I’m pleased with the guys that, under those difficult circumstances, they hung in and we’ve got our destiny in our hands now.
“I think we’re good enough to beat any team in this comp if we play well.”
But they won’t be taking the Force lightly.
No team bears a greater grudge against the Rebels than the Force after being booted out of Super Rugby proper in 2017 when Rugby Australia favoured a footprint in Melbourne rather than Perth.
“If they beat us, they’ll consider it a pretty decent finish to the season,” said Rebels captain Matt Toomua.
“For us, we’ve got the chance to make history for our club and that’s all we’ll be thinking about.
“Ultimately, we win that and we go through to our first finals. That would be huge for us.
“So we have plenty to play for. Yeah, of course, they’ve got a lot to play for but there’s enough for us to make some history for our club.”
A head-wrecker outcome for Hooper and cohttps://t.co/vBlogdQXbS
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 29, 2020
Saturday’s other final-round encounter between the Brumbies and Reds in Brisbane is effectively a dead rubber.
Having locked up top spot already, the Brumbies will host the grand final in Canberra on September 19.
The Reds will face either the Rebels or Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium in the September 12 grand final qualifier.
The Waratahs would have fancied their chances of sneaking through had they not conceded a late Toomua penalty goal that earned the Rebels a bonus point at Leichhardt Oval.
Without the bonus point, the Rebels would have had to out-score the plucky Force by at least three tries – and win.
Still, Waratahs coach Rob Penney is backing the Force to make life difficult for the Rebels.
“They’ll be wanting to finish on a high and they were very competitive last night (against the Brumbies) again,” Penney said of the Force’s 31-14 defeat.
“So they’ll be getting all our best wishes and if there’s some good wine from the Hunter Valley that they need, we’re more than happy to send that up to them.”
– Darren Walton
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