The Melbourne Rebels may have lost three matches in a row to start the Super Rugby season, but coach Tony McGahan has praised the effort of his players against the Chiefs amid the “deafening” silence about the club’s future beyond this season.
The Rebels led 11-7 against the undefeated Chiefs but conceded 20 points in the final 13 minutes to fall short 27-14 in Melbourne.
It was, however, a spirited showing given the circumstances of recent weeks.
Before Friday, the Rebels had conceded an ugly 127 points from their opening two matches and have had to deal with incessant speculation that their existence is under threat as the ARU looks to chop a team from Super Rugby in 2018.
There was no fairytale victory against a well-drilled Chiefs outfit but McGahan believes it was a step in the right direction.
“We’ve lost the game, but during the week we were really looking for a performance to build on … and I think the players, and certainly Nic [Stirzaker] as captain, delivered on that,” McGahan said. “I really liked the spirit and the way we competed and the way we got off the ground and kept coming hard all night, whether it was on attack or defence.”
It is believed no final decision on the make-up of next year’s Super Rugby competition will be made until next month.
The Rebels played on Friday with the vigour and determination of a team with their head on the chopping block, but McGahan is adamant there was no blurring of on-field and off-field pressures.
“Certainly not from the playing group or the squad, we didn’t have a meeting about it,” McGahan said. “I can’t say people aren’t talking about it to family, friends or internally to each other, but we certainly haven’t addressed it as a group.
“We understand where it is, we have zero control over it. We know the silence is deafening. There’s innuendo and all sorts of things going on out there at this point in time and that’s not going to die down in the next three or four weeks. We’re here to do what we’ve got to do. We’ve gone a little way to doing that.”
Captain Stirzaker echoed the thoughts of his coach, saying he didn’t think the squad was too far off the mark, unlike some experts who are adamant the Rebels should be turfed out of the competition due to a lack of depth.
“We’re disappointed we didn’t win because we definitely could have, but really proud of the effort,” Stirzaker said. “We showed we’re a good side, which we knew we were, but we hadn’t shown it until tonight. That’s pleasing but definitely disappointed we couldn’t close it out.
“We’re not too far behind [the leaders in the n conference], but we’re also on zero points and we’re chasing our first win and pretty keen to get that next week.”
The Rebels’ next assignment will be the Waratahs on Friday night, but they have the benefit of playing back-to-back home games in Melbourne.
The Victorian franchise actually knocked off the Waratahs in their only outing last year, a 21-17 upset in Sydney.
“We’ll just try and use that game [against the Chiefs] to build forward, which is all we can do and push against the Waratahs,” Stirzaker said. “It’ll be another tough game for us. They’re a good side as well, but we play well at home and it’ll be good to have two home games in a row. That’ll be nice for us.”