Tue, Feb 20, 2024, 10:20 AM
Nathan Williamson

Melbourne Rebels coach Kevin Foote wasn't shying away from the importance of Friday's Super Rugby Pacific opener as they prepare to deal with the ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park.

Foote has assembled one of the strongest Rebels' squads in recent memory and will get the chance to truly test themselves against the benchmark of the Australian sides.

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The two sides played out a thriller in their last clash at Melbourne in May, remembered for Noah Lolesio's try celebration aimed at opposition half Carter Gordon.

With the Rebels in administration and club and national futures unknown, Foote understands what is at stake on Friday

“It is personal, I think it is personal, that’s the truth of it,” he said to reporters.

“There’s a new Wallabies coach on top of that, so they’ll be playing for positions. There’s the British and Irish Lions coming, Wales Tests come July. Everyone will be out to impress but it’s personal for us.

“…Steve (Larkham) and the Brumbies have been really successful for a long time and they know what they are about and back it up week in, week out so it’s a great challenge for us.”

The Rebels will be near-full strength for the match, with new recruit Matt Proctor and props Pone Fa'amausili and Cabous Eloff the only trio in doubt.

It's a stark contrast to previous seasons, with the Rebels starting last year with captain Rob Leota, Matt Philip and Andrew Kellaway on the sidelines.

“It’s probably credit to our medical and athletic performance team," Foote said.

"Two years ago, we had 16 players unavailable for that Drua trial at Harlequins so the strength of the squad we could roll out there on Friday was exceptional. I announced the team just then (to the group) and had to leave out some very talented players.

"I’m really proud of that pre-season, a lot of hard work was done and we connected with Melbourne. We’re really excited about this squad thanks to the recruitment from Stilesy (GM of Rugby Nick Stiles) and Bado (Stephenson, outgoing CEO) and I think it’s going to pay off.”

It sets them up perfectly to start their season strong, facing the Western Force and Moana Pasifika in the first three weeks.

“As a young coach you probably don’t speak about winning as much, you say ‘process, process’, but winning is important,” Foote added. “…It’s not lost on us, but we understand that it’s a long season to go and there’s a process but we do speak about winning and it is important and, given where the club’s at, it will definitely help.

“We’re using it to galvanise us more than distract us. There is distraction. If I stood here and said there wasn’t, I’d be lying to you but it’s not worth focusing on that.

“…This is probably the strongest Rebels side we’ve assembled, so let’s focus on that.”