Rebels aiming to boost Wallabies numbers
April 19, 2014
Scott Higginbotham is currently the Rebels' only Test player © Getty Images
The Wallabies are an endangered species at the Melbourne Rebels, with coach Tony McGahan doing all he can to boost their numbers.
Following the departure of Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Nick Phipps, skipper Scott Higginbotham is the only Test player amongst the Rebels' ranks - although he missed the international season last year through injury.
McGahan says the Brumbies, who boast 12 Test players, have a successful Wallabies pathway blueprint which his Super Rugby franchise wants to emulate.
"We've got one at the moment but that's where we are as a club," said McGahan, a former Australian assistant coach. "The Brumbies, through a very strong on-field and off-field organisation with a really good rugby program, have shown over the last two years what you can do. It's a blueprint for other clubs. We want to have a program to turn young men like Luke (Jones) and other players, Sean McMahon, Nic Stirzaker and Mitch Inman into Wallabies."
Hard-running lock Jones could be the first to join Higginbotham after an impressive start to the season. The 23-year-old regularly tops his team for ball carries - making a game-high 16 runs in their 22-16 Good Friday win over the Western Force. Along with flanker Colby Fainga'a he also topped their tackle count. McGahan said that Jones, a ferocious trainer, was now a consistent performer.
"Some of the performances he's put in have been first rate and we're delighted that he's now been able to string back-to-back performances together," he said. "I think you see the metres that he does in carry and his work around corners is something every good lock needs to have and he's been excellent for us."
Jones was signed by the Force while still in high school and moved to Melbourne four seasons ago. He said he had set high standards for himself this year.
"More than the other years I've had more pressure on myself to perform and do certain things in games - reactions to rucks and ball carries," Jones said.
The Rebels' second row is a strength, with Cadeyrn Neville making the most of his start against the Force while Hugh Pyle, who he replaced, has also been one of the Rebels' best.