REACTION: ‘This is real now’ – Rebels in tears as 14-year Super Rugby journey comes to brutal end


The Rebels players have been fearing the worst for months and grieving for nine days but it did nothing to lessen the hammer blow of the final siren of their final match in Super Rugby.

Distraught players were choking back tears as the realisation sunk in that a quarterfinal loss to the Hurricanes also meant the loss of their club and their jobs.

While the Rebels have had to face speculation over their demise all season the bad news was finally and brutally delivered nine days ago just hours before the team was due to fly to Fiji.

They managed to become the first Rebels team to play in the finals and after a strong effort against the table-topping Hurricanes in the first half, the Kiwi team overpowered them, yet they battled to the finish line.

Filipo Daugunu and Lachie Anderson of the Rebels react after the final whistle. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

After the cameras panned across the defeated Rebels, Wallaby great Tim Horan said: “I think that now it’s starting to hit the players, it’s hitting the coaches and they’re going, OK, this is real now.

“Because you put so much energy and emotion into the build-up to games and at the end of it there’s this big letdown.

“They should be very proud of the effort that they’ve put in not just this year but the last 14 years.”

Brad Wilkin, a former Rebels skipper, was choking on tears in his post-match interview on Stan Sport, his voice breaking.

“It’s a sad time, actually, just the realisation that the club’s over,” Wilkin said.

“A lot of people have invested a lot into this club. A lot of hard work has gone into it. And I just can’t be more proud of the group for staying together this season. Just really proud to be a part of this team.”

The devastation was everywhere – from long time Rebels to first year reps like Test prop Taniela Tupou.

Coach Kevin Foote of the Rebels hugs Ryan Louwrens. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

‘I’ll probably take with me the importance of the connections you can have on the field and off the field,” said Wilkin.

“If you all buy in and you play for a common purpose, then you can achieve some good things. 

“Wherever I end up, I’m not too sure just yet. I’ll just try and bring the experience that I’ve gained over the years. We’ve had great coaches that I’ve learned a lot off. So I can’t be more thankful for the staff, for the coaches that we’ve had.”

Former Wallaby Cam Shepherd told Wilkin he was was impressed at how the Rebels took their plight on the chin.

“You guys have never turned on each other. You’ve never come out in the media and spoken about your frustrations and pointed the finger at anyone else,” said Shepherd.

“As an Australian public, mate, we’re so proud of you guys that you represent Australia and Victoria. 

“It’s been pretty inspirational to see how you guys have kept your chin up, fight this year, play in finals and continue to do us all proud, mate.”

Rebels winger Lachie Anderson also struggled in the emotional moment.

“It’s pretty raw to be honest,” he said. “We spoke about it during the week a lot. We’ve spoken about it all year.

“We know we have a loyal supporter base down in Victoria and I think we saw it tonight with the amount of people that travelled over here. 

“We spoke about putting a performance in that we could make the whole state proud of. I think we did that. We came out tonight throwing punches. Yeah, it’s a pretty tight group but as you could expect, there’s a fair few boys hurting at the moment.”

Anderson, in his fifth year with the Rebels, issued a rallying cry to Australian rugby not to forsake Victoria.

Carter Gordon of the Rebels and Brett Cameron of the Hurricanes compete for a loose ball. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“I think it’s huge for the kids that are coming through and want to play rugby. They live in Victoria,” he said.

“There’s a great base, especially a Pacific Islander base down in Victoria. Those kids in there, they want to grow up to become a Melbourne Rebel. 

“It’s really important that we still do invest in those pathways and those kids, whether it’s the schools or the clubs. That we keep them, we don’t lose them, because there’s a lot of special players down in this state and a special supporter base.”

Shepherd said it will be tough for the players now that the show is packing up and leaving town.

“It’s difficult for a lot of people, primarily the playing group and the people close to it,” said Shepherd.

“The reality is starting to set in and looking ahead to what the next couple of weeks is going to bring for these guys is going to be hard.

“You’re not turning up to training on Monday anymore. You’re not doing the normal things that revolve around a weekly preparation and a game. It’s going to be tough, but they certainly did themselves proud this afternoon, so they should be proud of that.”

Some of their players have already been linked with moves to remaining franchises but that activity is set to intensify over the next few weeks.

Some will get a call in the next few days telling them to report for duty in Joe Schmidt’s Wallaby train on squad.

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