Melbourne - As Australia's youngest Super Rugby side, the Melbourne Rebels are
mindful of the struggles the three expansion teams face in joining the
world's toughest club rugby competition.
The Rebels joined the southern hemisphere tournament as Australia's
fifth side in 2011, charged with carving out a niche in a city already
saturated by 11 professional teams in rival football codes.
Pundits complained that the competition was not ready for a 15th
franchise and that Australia's limited playing pool could not sustain
four sides, let alone five.
After five years of toil on the playing field, multi-million dollar
losses and the turnover of a string of CEOs, the Rebels now feel more
assured of their place in Australian rugby.
But the broader competition is under the microscope as it attempts an
ambitious expansion to 18 teams that brings Super Rugby to Argentina,
Japan and Singapore for the first time.
Of the three expansion sides, the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares, laden
with Argentina internationals, appear best placed to weather the shock
of the new.
More concerns surround the re-entry of the Southern Kings as a sixth
South Africa franchise and the introduction of the Tokyo-based
Sunwolves, who will also play home games in Singapore.
The Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings survived one season of Super
Rugby in 2013 before being replaced by Johannesburg's Lions and their
buildup to the coming campaign has been dogged by financial problems.
The Sunwolves have only had a head coach since December and a number of
Japan's top internationals have turned their backs on the outfit to play
with rival sides in the tournament.
"The one thing certainly that we know is that it is not easy to put
together a franchise and be successful from the get-go and have that
consistency and ability because it is a big shock," Rebels coach Tony
McGahan, who will guide the team into a third season, told Reuters in an
"The travel, the organising, the logistics of what a Super competition
brings as opposed to a lot of rugby competitions which are essentially
just domestic - there will be a lot of learnings there.
"It's not about right now. I'm sure that all those decisions and why
they joined was for the good of the game long-term as opposed to what
they can do in their first season."
Australia's first privately-run Super Rugby team, the Rebels entered the
competition with the backing of corporate heavyweights and under the
guidance of World Cup-winning Wallabies coach Rod Macqueen.
With a roster of rookies and international journeymen, the Rebels posted
three wins in their opening season and four in the second.
Gradual on-field improvements were undermined by a litany of off-field
problems, however, and by 2013, the Rebels were under the charge of a
fifth CEO and buffeted by incidents of indiscipline among players.
Culture problems among the playing group were a factor in the departure
of Macqueen's successor Damien Hill, and McGahan has since battled to
protect his playing group from rival recruiters and natural attrition.
McGahan, who coached the Rebels to a franchise record seven wins last
season, said the three expansion teams needed to worry less about their
win-loss records than laying the foundations for future success.
"Performance is not even guaranteed for sides that have been there for a
long time," said McGahan, who coached Irish club Munster to two Celtic
League titles during his tenure from 2008-12.
"The big thing is really having a very strong vision of where you want
to end up, not necessarily after year one but where you want to go after
the first four or five years.
"Wins are important obviously because you need that. But if you don't
have any stability or any base to build from, you're not going to go
forward at all.
"You need to have some chance of where you're going with your playing list."