Rebels coach’s future up in the air
The Melbourne Rebels finally elected to run the ball against the Waratahs at Bankwest Stadium.
Unfortunately, their desire to do so was two months late.
Throughout their opening seven matches, the Rebels decided to play Jake White rugby and take the points on offer but it repeatedly bit them in the backside as they lost three matches by three points or less throughout the season.
With their finals hopes up in smoke, the Rebels at long last ran the ball and surprise, surprise, it worked as they ran in four tries to fend off a fight back from the Waratahs and claim the Weary Dunlop Shield 36-25.
One night earlier, the Western Force toppled the previously unbeaten Queensland Reds to make it three wins on the trot and seal their maiden Super Rugby finals berth. By winning, it made Saturday night’s match a dead-rubber.
Yet, it was anything but a dead fixture for under-siege Rebels coach Dave Wessels, who is off contract at season’s end and might not make it that far.
It’s understood Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson is backing Wessels to see the season out, but having missed the finals – the third time in four seasons – the South African-born coach faces an anxious week ahead with the board itchy following a dreadful month.
With the trans-Tasman competition to get underway in three weeks, the Rebels board will have to act swiftly if they want to make change. If he goes, he will be the second coach sacked in 2021 after Rob Penney was shown the door at the Waratahs after five straight defeats.
Wessels, in his fourth year at the Rebels since joining from the Force, has a 44 per cent win rate at the franchise.
But just as bad as their win-rate was their uninspiring style of play, which saw them cross for just 14 tries in eight matches. This, a side with Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete and Test playmaker Matt To’omua in it.
“The elephant in the room is we’re out now,” To’omua said.
“It was an odd preparation. I’m glad we showed a bit of resilience and ticker to start the well in both halves and to go down a couple of players and still show the resilience around set-piece and the tight areas showed there’s a bit of ticker in the guys.”
Isi Naisarani was ordered from the field.Source:Getty Images
With the shackles off, the Rebels threw caution to the wind against the winless Waratahs.
Isi Naisarani slipped an offload away from the kick off and Fijian international Frank Lomani sprinted through the middle and kicked ahead. Waratahs fullback Jack Maddocks cleaned up on his own goal line, but the home side lost it at the breakdown and To’omua kicked across field for his centre Stacey Ili to score after 40 seconds.
Desperate to not go through the tournament winless, the Waratahs took the points on offer as Ben Donaldson cut the margin to 7-6 after two quick penalties.
But a defensive blunder from captain Jake Gordon from a scrum allowed Naisarani to offload to his back-row teammate Michael Wells who scored out wide to make it 12-6.
A To’omua penalty soon after extended the margin.
The game had a long delay as Naisarani’s season of misery continued, as he was red carded for a shot that collected Max Douglas in the jaw. The discarded Wallabies back-rower, who is expected to head offshore at season’s end and didn’t feature under Dave Rennie in his first season in charge, was making his first start of the season after coming back from injury.
Reduced to 14 men for 20 minutes, the Waratahs made the most of the numerical advantage to score two tries to the Rebels’ three-points during the period.
Some magic from Izaia Perese, who has quickly put his name up in lights for a Test debut after a spectacular season since returning from suspension, allowed Mark Nawaqanitawase to score.
Maddocks scored the home side’s second try in the 37th minute to make it 21-18.
Just as they did in the first half, the Rebels jumped out of the blocks in the second half as makeshift lock Rob Leota scored.
Flanker Carlo Tizzano kept the Waratahs in the match with a try after 50 minutes, but a penalty to To’omua and try to prop Matt Gibbon gave the visitors a late buffer.
Another red card, this time to replacement prop Pone Fa’amausilli for a heavy shot on Douglas, where his shoulder made contact with the head but only because of the force of the shot and the sitting duck nature of the lock, gave the Rebels a freight.
But two late penalties on their own goal-line saw the Rebels survive and ease ever so slightly the pressure on Wessels.
Whether he is there for the Rebels’ trans-Tasman opener against the Blues on May 15 remains to be seen.
For now, the Brumbies will host the Force on May 1 for the chance to play the Reds in the final a week later.
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