Tamati Ellison hails fresh Rebels attitude
February 27, 2014
Tamati Ellison has a leadership role in the Rebels' inexperienced backline © Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels approach their Super Rugby opener against the Cheetahs at The Stockade on Friday night with high hopes after their undefeated pre-season campaign, having never previously won a trial, and Tamati Ellison believes that is a result of their fresh cohesive attitude under first-season coach Tony McGahan.
Ellison, a former All Blacks representative whose rugby career has seen him play in New Zealand and Japan, says he has noticed a change in the Rebels under McGahan compared with the Melbourne teams against which he has played previously.
"From an outside perspective, in the past the Rebels had a few key signing and guys who were pretty well known," Ellison said. "But it always seemed that there was a bit of a disconnect within the squad. With the Highlanders, we certainly tried to target that a little and pick on those bits. Now, talking to a few of the boys here, there has been a big change in the group and it looks like everybody is pulling in the same direction which is critical."
Ellison also says the backline, into which he was pitch-forked almost as soon as he arrived in Melbourne from Japan, "is starting to click". But he said they were not the finished article, and there was still plenty of improvement to come when the face the Cheetahs in Melbourne.
"We're not quite there yet, and I'll be the first to admit I still have some work to do in and around the plays," He said. "You can't spend the whole day out on the field, so you have to work hard off the field to learn everything. You also need to do your own mental preparation."
Ellison joined the squad direct from his Japanese Top League season with Ricoh Black Rams, meaning he missed the majority of the 31 week pre-season but arrived match-fit. And he said the lack of time spent with his team-mates to this point was not necessarily a problem. "Rugby is a pretty simple game," he said. "Get the ball over the line more than the other team and you'll probably do alright."
The New Zealander is one of eight first-time Rebels players named in the squad to host the Cheetahs, and he is relishing the challenge of opening the season against a team with no shortage of Springboks that is coming off a victory against the Bulls and a maiden finals appearance in 2013.
"We have reasonably clear expectations on ourselves, so hopefully we get plenty of people there for a great game," Ellison said. "I think those who come and look will see a group of guys who will show some desperation and a real willingness to work for each other. I think they will see some brutality as well; we're ready to go. It will be great for people to have a first look at a new side in a new campaign."
McGahan named Sean McMahon, Ben Meehan and Max Lahiff to make their Super Rugby debuts against the Cheetahs, the latter two off the bench, while two-time Super Rugby winner and former Chiefs prop Toby Smith, former Waratahs back Tom Kingston, former Crusaders Steve Fuala and former Brumbies flanker Colby Fainga'a join Ellison in making their first start for the Rebels.
McMahon, the youngest Australian Sevens representative, said he felt a cluster of emotions when told he was starting in the back-row.
"I was a bit stunned, a bit nervous," he said. "There were lots of different emotions, but mainly I was excited. I'm really happy to be in the run-on side, so I can get straight in and get a feel for it. I just want to contribute to a strong first-up performance, and go from there."
Scrum-half Meehan said his selection was the realisation of a childhood dream. "I'm very, very excited to be named in the 23," Meehan said. "I've always wanted to play professional rugby, and I just want to do my family proud."
Rebels: Jason Woodward; Lachlan Mitchell, Tamati Ellison, Mitch Inman, Tom English; Bryce Hegarty, Luke Burgess; Scott Higginbotham (captain), Scott Fuglistaller, Sean McMahon; Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle; Laurie Weeks, Pat Leafa, Toby Smith. Replacements: Steve Fualau, Max Lahiff, Paul Alo-Emile, Cadeyrn Neville, Colby Fainga'a, Ben Meehan, Angus Roberts, Tom Kingston.
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