Dave Wessels has molded Rebels into a unit as they battle Lions
There are many ways of oversimplifying Saturday’s Super Rugby clash between the Lions and the Rebels.
The most obvious would be to weigh up the virtues of flyhalves Elton Jantjies and Quade Cooper but there are so many other variables it will be folly to focus on the two 10s.
One could equally also enquire how Courtnall Skosan will contain Jack Maddocks‚ the Lions the Rebels’ driving maul‚ or indeed whether referee Egon Seconds can look the Lions in the eye after his handling of their match against the Stormers earlier this season.
Although the Lions bounced back last week with an impressive performance in the first hour against the Jaguares‚ there are several areas of their game that need tightening up.
The Rebels are a side who have learned to roll with the punches and they have impressive game managers in Cooper and Will Genia.
They have been instrumental in the Rebels arriving in the country unbeaten in Super Rugby. The tourists are indubitably much improved since Dave Wessels took the coaching reins before the start of last season.
“If I look back at how we did things in the last 18 months‚ jeez‚ I made a lot of mistakes along the way‚” Wessels said candidly.
“We are running a better team and organisation than we did a year ago.
“There is real satisfaction knowing they are better than they were a few months ago. It’s like the TV show ‘Pimp My Ride’. You come in as an old car but leave as a souped-up something.
“We want these athletes to come into our environment and leave better versions of themselves.”
Wessels added that his team would like to emulate the Lions‚ who have played in the last three finals.
Indeed there are parallels between where the Lions once were and the state in which Wessels found the Rebels. Morale was low but increasingly the Rebels are playing with a know-it-all swagger.
Much of it stems from bonding as a team.
“I think that comes down to guys caring about each other‚” said the coach. “There is that connection.
“There are also a bunch of guys who haven’t had the easiest lives. They’ve had some bumps and bruises along the way and as a result they are more resolute people.”
Wessels points to the fact that the team strives for constant improvement. Individuals are challenged to get better in every sphere.
“We started the season and our scrum wasn’t where we wanted it to be. We played a good Wallaby tight five last weekend and our scrum had made massive improvements. Every week we try and get better at something.”
The Cape Town-born coach gives the example of how they beat the Highlanders earlier this season but failed to scale the peaks they had set for themselves.
“We were quite down after the game. We didn’t feel we delivered our best game‚” he said.
“That was a nice thing for me to see. The score is almost a consequence of what we are doing.”
Lions: Tyrone Green; Ruan Combrinck‚ Wandisile Simelane‚ Franco Naude‚ Courtnall Skosan; Elton Jantjies‚ Ross Cronjé; Albertus Smith‚ Vincent Tshituka‚ Marnus Schoeman; Stephan Lewies‚ Marvin Orie; Carlu Sadie‚ Malcolm Marx (captain)‚ Dylan Smith.
Substitutes: Jan-Henning Campher‚ Sithembiso Sithole‚ Frans van Wyk‚ Rhyno Herbst‚ Ruan Vermaak; Gianni Lombard‚ Lionel Mapoe‚ Andries Coetzee.
Rebels: Dane Haylett-Petty (captain); Jack Maddocks‚ Tom English‚ Billy Meakes‚ Reece Hodge; Quade Cooper‚ Will Genia; Isi Naisarani‚ Brad Wilkin‚ Luke Jones; Adam Coleman‚ Ross Haylett-Petty; Sam Talakai‚ Anaru Rangi‚ Tetera Faulkner.
Substitutes: Robbie Abel‚ Matt Gibbon‚ Jermaine Ainsley‚ Matt Philip‚ Angus Cottrell; Michael Ruru‚ Sione Tuipulotu‚ Marika Koroibete.
Referee: Egon Seconds
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper‚ Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Vos Willie (South Africa)