The Melbourne Rebels’ loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin continued their dismal record on foreign shores but coach Tony McGahan believes Australia’s Super Rugby strugglers can upset the double-defending champion Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
Though increasingly masters of their own domain, the Rebels have been largely dreadful after clearing customs, and the 33-30 loss to the erratic Highlanders at the weekend was their 13th in succession outside Australia.
With each defeat making the quest for an overseas breakthrough ever stiffer, McGahan was keen to shore up his improving side’s self-confidence against the Chiefs, who return from a tough tour of South Africa with two fighting draws.
“I think we need to continue to have belief in what we’re doing,” McGahan told reporters in a conference call on Monday.
“Certainly we’re on the right track… The solution is within us. We need to continue to believe and to continue to execute and put pressure on opposition sides. We’ve got a lot of good tools in our armoury now. We’ve got a lot of good things that we can bring in our games.
“We feel that if we get our game together that we’re competitive against anyone.”
The Highlanders’ defeat has left the Rebels bottom of the Australian conference in their fourth season in the southern hemisphere competition, a position they have been all-too-familiar with in their short history.
The Chiefs, bidding for a hat-trick of championships, are leading the New Zealand conference and well poised to cement their place at the top on home soil.
The Dave Rennie-coached side have lost co-captain and All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden to a thumb injury for up to eight weeks, but McGahan, an assistant coach to Robbie Deans at the Wallabies until last year, was drawing little comfort from it.
“If you’re looking at the Chiefs in what they’ve done this year in rotating their squad through form or injury… they’re able to bring anyone into the picture and rely on them to do the job,” he said.
After finishing last year with five wins, the Rebels cleaned out their coaching staff and playing roster, dumping playmaker James O’Connor and losing fellow Wallabies back Kurtley Beale to the New South Wales Waratahs.
The team that has emerged this season has exhibited a more blue-collar work ethic in defence, though are still prone to shipping tries during lapses of focus.
The Rebels have also been punished by their lack of a super-boot, and the failure of New Zealand-born fullback Jason Woodward and young scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker to consistently clear the lines when deep in defence proved costly on Friday.
“Our nine, 10 and 15 need to take responsibility there with our exiting,” McGahan said.
“We’ve certainly been hard working on that right from the beginning of this season but we were unable to execute when we needed to on Friday night.
“Between the three of them they needed to find the solution. They had the answers but through good pressure and poor execution, (were) unable to deliver.”