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The good news for the proposed Melbourne Rebels Super 15 franchise is that the two main parties, VicSuper15 and the VRU Rebels, have formed a partnership and the third is now sniffing around looking for an opportunity to participate.
This is now happening under the auspices of the ARU’s co-opted financial guru, John Wylie. That might mean we now have a viable option or indeed, a going concern.
Once it comes to pass and we’re potentially handed the baton by SANZAR, they’ll be establishing the structure that will deliver the stuff that we’re really interested in like who’ll be the coach; which players will they recruit; how competitive will they be; what will they be called and what will their playing strip look like?
You’d have to say that the establishment of the Western Force is a pretty good template to follow in terms of structure, implementation, coach and players. Sure, the Firepower sponsorship was a bit of a disaster but you can’t win them all. The franchise in WA has been bedded down and apart from the ongoing difficulties with not having a proper rugby ground, which has affected attendance, things seem to be going reasonably well. They have a competitive union side which is there to stay.
I’m going to talk about the prospective coaches and players that I’d potentially recruit. Everyone will have an opinion on this but I’ve given it a bit of thought and made a few assumptions as well. The assumptions are that:
- We’re a new franchise in a limited market and as such are permitted by the ARU to recruit Australians from abroad whether they’re currently eligible to play for Australia or not.
- We’re permitted to recruit a smattering of Pacific Islanders and Argentinians.
- We’re also allowed to recruit a marquee player.
- Their current contract status is unknown.
Playing Style – forward orientated to some extent; a European style based on scrummaging, mauling and breakdown domination; wet weather capable (it is Melbourne); competent kicking game and an ability to break the line out wide.
Coach – these are the guys I’d be flying to Melbourne to interview:
Steve Meehan. Began his coaching career in Queensland in Premier Grade for GPS. He joined Stade Francais in 2002 and worked as a backs and skills assistant to Nick Mallett then Fabien Galthie. He was then recruited by Bath Rugby in 2006, taking over from Foley. He’s finished 8th, 3rd and 4th in the Guinness Premiership and has been competitive in the Heineken Cup. Bath have had a slow start to this season. They have played an attractive brand of rugby under Meehan. The drug related scandal at the end of last season may have taken its toll but its not his fault they had a few planks in their side.
Anthony McGahan. He came up through the Queensland coaching system via Brisbane Easts and schoolboys (including Churchie); also Australia U19. He was the defensive coach at Munster for a few years before getting the big gig last year. Laurie Fisher is his forwards coach. He made the Heineken Cup final against Leinster and won the Magners Celtic League, so has runs on the board. They’ve had a mixed beginning to this season.
Michael Cheika. Everybody’s talking Michael Cheika! I guess that’s because the mail is saying this will be his last season for Leinster. He’s been there since 2005 and has built it up solidly, peaking last year with the Heineken Cup win. He originated out of Randwick via Padova. He built up a partnership with David Knox which terminated acrimoniously last year. He now has Alan Gaffney and Jonno Gibbes in support. They’re continuing in the same vein this year, winning four out of five Magners League games to date.
Ewen MacKenzie. If he’s still available? Link is famously from down that way and attended Scotch College in Melbourne. He would be a good fit for this job – some have even been linking him to the CEO position. You’d think setting up a franchise from scratch would appeal to him. He was a successful Brumbies and Wallaby assistant and achieved good things at the Waratahs. His premature departure from Stade Francais was disappointing but, hey, they’re Frogs aren’t they? Taciturn and sometimes ‘ornery in public, I’d imagine Link drove some of those NSW Alikadoos crazy…..
I’d also consider Jake White, Pat Howard and Rod Kafer (I reckon Kafe’s a tactical genius – shame about his RUPA connections).
The Players – Melbourne Connection. I’d recruit some players with Melbourne associations to provide important local content to the side:
Digby Ioane. Diggers can become a world class player in the mould of Rupeni Caucaunibuca if he so chooses. He is such a difficult player to tackle with his continuous step and pumping thighs. He just needs to remain injury free. He also needs to focus on being a Wallaby and not what he can earn elsewhere. His whanau live in Melbourne.
Lloyd Johansson. Yes, I know what you’re going to say. But Johansson was exposed way too early to the big time. He had it too easy from schoolboy to Wallaby level. He now plays for Calvisano in Italy as a centre or five eighths. He’s still only 24. I’d like to see a more mature player return – he has all the skills.
Tom McVerry. Tom plays for Kyuden Voltex in the Japanese Top League. He is another player originating from Melbourne. A hard working openside flanker he had limited game time for the Reds due to David Croft’s mortgage on the position, so they converted him to blindside or occasionally No 8. A journeyman but one with heart who could make a contribution.
Marquee Player – Greg Somerville. Tighthead prop who can sometimes play loosehead. Somerville has been a world class player but is now coming towards the end of his career. I’d pick Carl Hayman as first choice but it’s unlikely that he’d be available in 2011. Somerville is a rock and a tough Canterbury boy.
Rodney Blake. Rodzilla has had a couple of season over in Bayonne playing Top 14 against some hard nuts. He never really cut it during his Wallaby stint. He was seen as ‘the great white hope’ in response to our abysmal scrummaging performance during Eddie Jones’ tenure. But it was all too much pressure for Rod. Now that he’s matured I reckon he could challenge for a RWC 2011 Wallaby tighthead spot, despite some press rubbish from Tonga speculating that he could end up playing for them.
Marcos Ayerza. This guy is an Argentinean bull. He is a world class loosehead prop who plays for the Leceister Tigers. He’s only 26 yrs old and is taking over from the veteran Rodrigo Roncero (Stade Francais) in the Argentinean pack. He thinks the Super 15 proposal that would include players from Argentina a great idea. In his spare time he plays pianoforte – Chopin and Bach. I think he’d fit right in to the Melbourne scene?
Alex Walker. An Australian U21 player now plying his trade with the Newcastle Falcons. Previously with Leeds and Saracens. A former tighthead prop, he is a strong scrummager and mobile around the park. He holds both an Australian and British passport. Only 25 and a very promising player.
Brent Cockbain. The former Welsh lock is currently playing for Sale in the Guinness Premiership and probably his best is behind him. He is an aggressive forward in the tight with his lineout work a strength. You’d be able to use his experience in a similar manner to the way the Force did with John Wellborn.
Dan Vickerman. If he was fit, playing professional rugby and wanted to return to Australia you’d jump at the chance to recruit him. At his best he’s a world class lock and lineout forward. He would add so much starch to a new franchise and perhaps you could use his business acumen as well? If he was unavailable, I’d go with Al Campbell from Montpellier.
Ben Mowen. Another Queensland product and one of the Waratahs’ stars this year. A tall, rangy and athletic loose forward with lineout skills and a big future. This is a kid whom you could base your franchise around – future captain.
Scott Gray. Like Bam Bam he is originally from Zimbabwe but ended up in Queensland. An openside flanker, he was recruited to the Brumbies Academy but switched codes and played with the Broncos before joining Bath in the Guinness Premiership. From Bath, Gray joined Border Reivers until their disbandment. Now with the Northhampton Saints he has a number of international caps for Scotland.
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. A hard, grafting, classy No. 8 now with Toulon. A natural leader with tactical nous and a touch of charisma. With his captaincy experience for both Sale and Argentina he’d be a leading candidate for the leadership.
Nic Berry. ‘Chuck’ has been with Racing Metro 92 Paris for the past couple of years, gaining promotion to the Top 14 this year. He’s a former Red, nippy on his feet with a good pass and box kick. He departed the Reds at a time when the halfback stocks were relatively healthy – he would be an asset there right now and in contention for a Wallaby spot.
Brock James. He’d be one of the first players I’d recruit. He would be just right for Melbourne conditions and the style of rugby I’d want to play. He has been an outstanding success at five eighth with Clermont Auvergne in the Top 14 but had an average time with the Force and the Reds previously.
Jonathon Thurston. I thought I’d throw this one in just to put you off! We all know his skill level and potential. He’d make a fantastic union player in the halves. The way it’s been reported you’d think that he even might be keen to give it a try. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t come anywhere near to adjusting to the union culture – stick with league mungo!
Paul Warwick. Originating from Brisbane Premier Grade GPS rugby, he has played league with the Broncos, union with the Reds and Connaught in the Magners League and now with Munster. London Irish were trying to recruit him recently but it looks like he’s staying at Munster. He has developed into a very capable fullback or five eighth at this top level, with a strong kicking game.
Mafi Kefu. Another player who has developed into a top line inside centre away from Australia. He was essentially a club and fringe Reds player when he went overseas but has now carved out a starting centre spot with Toulon in the Top 14. One of the famous Kefu clan, a strong and busting player who looks the goods on Setanta.
Marc Gasnier. Le Gaz has also turned into a fine player at Stade Francais as we’d all probably expect, as either a wing or centre. Link speaks well of his progress and there is potential for him to return to Oz for a shot at the 2011 RWC. Maybe he’d go where Link went?
Lachlan Mitchell. Young player out of the NSW Academy who was snapped up by Wasps in the Guinness Premiership last year. He played a number of games for both the A and First XV teams. Speed to burn and impressive skill-set. Looks like a kid with oodles of promise.
Cameron Shepherd. It’s time Shepherd had a change of luck with injuries restricting his appearances for the Force. When fully fit he’s a class fullback with a big boot. The sort of guy that would do well in Melbourne conditions. A safe defender and some speed on attack – he frequently seems to be in the right spot at the right time.
Notwithstanding those mentioned I’d also look at some Pacific island players, maybe former Australian residents like Josh Afu (Newcastle Falcons) or Dan Leo (Wasps) or a few Fijian backs like Seru Rabeni or Sireli Bobo? And I’d probably plunder the Reds Academy as well?
Here is a list (not exhaustive) of where some of the better known Australian players are based:
Italy: Cam Treloar, Brendan Williams, Justin Purll, Michael Aldridge, Todd Ollivier, Mark Sweeney, Arthur Little, Peter-William Marrapodi, Christian Warner, Luke McLean
France: Ben Coutts, AJ Whalley, Sam Cordingley, Chris Siale, Fotunuupule Auelua, Luke Rooney, Manny Edmonds, Craig Gower, Troy Takiari, Junior Pelesasa, Paul Dearlove, Matt Jolley, Henri Veratau, Lachie MacKay
UK & Ireland: Peter Hewat, Chris Malone, Tim Donnelly, Julian Salvi, Liam Bibo, Clinton Schifcofske, Steve Kefu, Ben Jacobs, Daniel Roach, David Lyons, Greg Barden, Shaun Berne, Chris Whitaker, Chris Latham, Andrew Farley, Ben White, Tim Swinson, Matt Carraro, Sam Norton-Knight, Tamaiti Horua, Gareth Hardy, Dan Parks, Ed O’Donoghue, Tom Court
Japan: Shame Drahm, Radike Samo, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Jone Tawake, Dan Heenan, Tim Atkinson, Nathan Grey, Elia Tuqiri, Toutai Kefu, Hugh McMeniman, Mark Gerrard, James Hilgendorf, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Scott Staniforth, Tai McIsaac, Brett Stapleton, Joel Wilson, Damian McInally, Gene Fairbanks, Peter Miller, Josh Gamgee, Mark Gilbride, Craig Wing
NZ: David Te Moana, Tajhon Mailata, Olei Ovei