Rugby-Rebels in rare air in make-or-break season

  • Rugby
  • Monday, 15 Apr 2024

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Saddled with crushing debts and with their future up in the air, a top four spot midway through the Super Rugby Pacific season was the last thing expected of a Melbourne Rebels team who have been perennial underachievers in the southern hemisphere competition.

Adversity appears to suit the Rebels, who now sit fourth at the halfway mark after beating the Otago Highlanders 47-31 on Saturday for their third win in succession.

The Rebels finished second-bottom last season and have never made the playoffs in a full competition of Super Rugby since joining in 2011.

Their one finals match came during the domestic Super Rugby AU tournament in 2020 after the outbreak of COVID-19.

Yet they can all but bank a spot in the quarter-finals with a win over the ailing Canterbury Crusaders in their next match following a bye this week.

The Rebels' future in the competition remains in the dark, with Rugby Australia (RA) having guaranteed only that their players and staff will be paid to the end of the season.

Having racked up more than A$20 million ($12.98 million) in debts, the Rebels appear a risky bet for investors in a crowded sporting market.

However, a private equity-backed consortium has floated pumping millions into the club and relocating them into western Melbourne in a possible rescue deal.

RA, which took out an A$80 million loan from a private lender last year to help fund the game, will no doubt hope for the deal to materialise.

RA will also hope the Rebels' players can continue to do the business on the field to make the club a more attractive prospect.

Though failing to win any major silverware, the Kevin Foote-coached Rebels have become an important proving ground for test rugby in Australia, contributing seven players to the Wallabies' World Cup squad last year.

Another member of their roster may be in line for a Wallabies jersey if Darby Lancaster can continue to impress.

The 20-year-old winger and national rugby sevens player produced a hat-trick of tries against the Highlanders to be dubbed "kid wonder" by former Wallaby and TV pundit Tim Horan.

Lancaster added another dimension to a backline that has been bolstered by the return of Wallabies fullback Andrew Kellaway from injury.

The Rebels (5-3) have a week off to savour the winning feeling before taking on the Crusaders away.

"It was an awesome way to finish this three-week block," said Foote after the Highlanders win.

"The guys played some awesome rugby out there, (they're) really starting to find the combinations now."

($1 = 1.5408 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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