WILL THE REBELS YELL? by Rupert Bates in Melbourne
“Starting a sporting team from scratch is a great challenge; more memorable because you are sharing the new experience with everybody at the club,” said RaboDirect Rebels head coach Rod Macqueen.
Rugby union is nothing new to Macqueen, coaching the Wallabies to World Cup glory in 1999, followed by the Tri-Nations title in 2000 and victory over the British Lions in 2001.
The Sydneysider then went fishing, or so many thought, but there has always been much more to Macqueen than rugby. A commercial artist by trade, he founded a multi-million dollar merchandising and brand building company called Advantage Line; wrote a book lauded more for its business ideals than any rugby revelations and continued his lifelong love of surf boating, where he was a multiple New South Wales champion.
Macqueen, 61, wants his new Melbourne charges – be they gnarled internationals or rookies – similarly to remove the rugby blinkers and broaden their minds beyond the boundary. You cannot catch new waves unless you lose sight of the shore.
“Balance is very important which is why the players are linked to Victorian schools, clubs and charities. We are determined to create a culture and brand that makes us synonymous with the State,” said Macqueen.
The team has a five-point creed that spells out Rebel – Respect, Excellence, Balance, Ethos and Leadership. The logo, which Macqueen helped create, embraces the five stars of the Southern Cross.
“Get the right culture and you are 50 per cent of the way there. How you act off the field is as important as on it.”
You can dismiss the desire to spread the rugby gospel through Victoria where AFL is the religion as psychobabble. But Macqueen does not do bull and as the most successful Australian coach ever he is worth listening to.
Macqueen was the coach of the Brumbies at the outset of Super rugby, so knows about building a new franchise. A lot of his recruitment has been based around leadership with 13 of the Rebels squad having captaincy experience at senior level, including former Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock, set on regaining his Test jersey after injury.
Macqueen is learning from AFL, talking to Carlton coaches and picking up new training drills and kicking techniques. “Watching the pace of the Carlton boys in training is an eye-opener.”
Equally AFL can learn from Macqueen, a coach determined to build a squad of rounded, grounded characters unlikely to get caught with their pants down.
“I am actually a Carlton fan and was really impressed by Chris Judd’s Brownlow Medal speech about sportsmen being very fortunate and losing perspective on the real world.”
Danny Cipriani, the England star out of mind and now out of sight, if not videotape, of national selection, has some minor celebrity baggage from London to keep the paparazzi happy, but Brendan Fevola he is not. Cipriani has been working with NRL legend Andrew Johns – more evidence of Macqueen’s enlightened approach.
”Danny, who we might play at full-back or first-five, is very skilful, a fine athlete and a good reader of the game. He has had problems under media scrutiny in the past and we are trying to protect him, espouse the team ethos and let Danny concentrate on his rugby. It would be great to see the likes of him, Stirling and our Wales number 8 Gareth Delve back in Test jerseys on the back of their Super 15 performances.”
Macqueen is not so much after a market share of Melbourne’s diverse sporting landscape, knowing he cannot compete with AFL in its backyard, but looking to add to its rich canvas.
“Despite all the great sport in Melbourne, it is a one union team city and we will be representing it on the world stage, not just in Australia.”
With the coup of poaching Brian Waldron from Storm embarrassingly followed by his resignation in the light of the salary cap scandal, the Rebels turned to one of Australian sport’s most respected administrators Ross Oakley, who oversaw the transformation of VFL to AFL, as its new chief executive.
“We believe there are about 15000 fanatical rugby supporters in and around the city and about 10,000 who we term theatre-goers and hope to capture,” said Oakley.
A big advertising campaign is about to hit Melbourne, which is where the Rebels chairman and major shareholder Harold Mitchell, the media tycoon, comes in handy, with the Rebels a privately owned franchise.
The Rebels lack nothing in commercial savvy, but ultimately a sporting brand can only be built on the back of profit on the pitch. Melbourne needs winners, not just ambassadors.
“You cannot do anything special unless you take a risk. I believe this squad can be competitive from day one. We need to be brutally honest about ourselves and know that we have done our very best.”
Come the ‘Rebelution’ on the day a cut-out of Mortlock replaces Judd, Macqueen can go fishing.
This article originally appeared in The Age, Melbourne. www.theage.com.au/sport