A Melbourne Rebel Fan's International Folly

The Rolling Maul's Melbourne (and token Rebels fan) correspondent reports on his first international assignment; to follow his team to Auckland last weekend. Here's his report...
Note: the views contained in this report are those of the writer only and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Rolling Maul, unless they are particularly funny, in which case they were edits made by The Rolling Maul.

As a newly minted Melbourne Rebels member, I noticed that the Rebels never seemed to have any support on their road trips.  After witnessing several Rebels' home games, I similarly noticed that there are always LOTS of supporters of the away teams.  I decided to take it upon myself to rectify this situation, starting with the Rebels away game against the Blues last weekend.

First, a bit about me, so that you can be satisfied that I'm not just half crazy, but completely certifiably bonkers. I'm an ex-pat New Zealander, living in Melbourne for 16 years.  Every year I would go to the one-off test match.  This would be occasionally spectacular, usually mediocre, and sometimes non-existent or pathetic.  Having a Super Rugby team locally was amazing.  I also made a commitment 10 years ago that meant I would be home with my Jewish family every Friday night.  So what happens when the Rebels (in the infinite wisdom of their "market research") decide to play ALL their home games on a Friday night?  Well they happened to cut me out, and other similar refuseniks of the Jewish community, thereby limiting their so-called 'market'.

Someone should have told the ARU that the Jews are the "original" Rebels, and they should accommodate us.

So when I noticed that there was an away game in Auckland, and discount return tickets for $250, I was keen. The fact that I was taking my 6 year old daughter along may sold the idea to the missus but it somehow spoilt the idea of a "boys weekend".  Still, my daughter travels well .. this is the third year running I've taken her on a trip with me.

So, off went said daughter and I on our annual trip. This was further enhanced by my Mum flying up from Palmerston North to meet us in Auckland, thus meaning we could have TWO Mothers days in Auckland and Melbourne. So there were some drawbacks.

So we've checked in and I'm illegally checking my phone in the customs hall.  What do I see but Kurtley Beale has been dumped for breaking team protocol.  By now, I'm sure the team are holed up in Kiwiland somewhere.  This was nothing compared my shock when we entered the Qantas lounge ... THEY HAVE A PANCAKE MAKER!!!  Also Rebels coach Damian O'Connor was there, I figured on his way to join the team.  I got a cheeky photo with him, but noticed he was sitting on his own.  Must be travelling to meet the team.  He remembered me from a club breakfast last year.  He's quite softly spoken.  He did say to go down to the sideline and he'd chat with us during the game.  This is very kind, as he surely would have been preoccupied with, umm, THE GAME!!

Anyway, Miss 6yo gets bored of the lounge and wants to go to the plane.  Who do we see but perhaps some of the lesser Rebels players that can't afford lounge access waiting in the gate lounge.   This looks like most of them and we get some good photos.

Some of the 'lesser' Rebels with a 6 year old girl who doesn't know who they are
Anyway, it turns out the whole team are on our plane. Interesting to see the dynamics in the team. Coach O'Connor seemed very removed from the team. He was reading some articles from the Harvard Business Review and was very keen to get my daughter introduced to the team.  I'm not sure if he read John O'Neil's book, but JON said that the last thing you want Rugby players doing before a game is playing the cute and cuddly Dad role. You want them pissed off and angry, and wanting to belt people. In this instance, them being warm and gooey was probably a good thing. My daughter really packs a punch when she needs to defend herself.

Ged Robinson was very friendly, although excited about meeting a fellow Kiwi and keen to move back to Hawkes Bay. This obviously lead to the promotion of Shota, who I sat next to on the flight. Lets just say he was a bit nervous about his first start.

Just my luck though. So many questions to ask and I sit next to the guy whose English is not his main language (and by some way). 

I was not brave enough to bring up the Beale issue. The team were very keen to look after us, probably their first traveling fans ever. Ged seemed shocked - "Really?  You're going, to watch US?"

About 30mins before landing I got my daughter to carry her miniature rugby ball up and down the cabin collecting signatures.  Some guys slept, but most were happy to sign, and some very keen to have a chat with her.  

Is it just me or does Shota's signature look like a man running away from a burning building?
On landing they got whisked through in a group through Auckland customs. I had an argument with the officer about the stupid instructions on the arrival form. ("See here, it says if I am a New Zealand citizen travelling on a foreign passport that I skip question 9.  What do you mean that 'Australian passports' do not count as 'foreign'???")

Once through biosecurity it looked like there was no team bus as the players were all over the place.  Gareth Delve wished us well and said "see you Saturday", which is especially nice coming in his Welsh accent.

We met my Mum the next day, and took the now tired 6 year-old on a walk up Queen St where we saw reserve prop Paul Alo-Emery with a mate.  He asked us if we knew of anywhere to get a feed on Queen St.  I thought about suggesting the Kosher Deli, but thought better of it.  Even Reserve Props don't need that kind of artery bashing.

I tweeted the picture of the ball Hannah got signed.  Very soon after I got an invite from RaboDirect to the "Inner Sanctum Experience" - meet with Stirling Mortlock, go on the pitch during the warm up, in the dressing rooms for coaches pre-game day speech, best seats in hospitality.  Of course I can't go ... Friday night. Damn. 

On game day, our pre-booked Taxi arrives early (nice) and takes us to Eden Park.  Very easy, and not too much traffic.  Although I would hate to see it for a game that actually meant something.  Auckland had a splash of genius to leave this stadium out in the middle of the suburbs rather than moving it to a central place with lots of easy transport and hospitality.

On taking our seats, we are amazed. We find another 3 Melbourne Rebels supporters. Shocked in fact.  We go down to the sideline and get a wave from some of the Rebels trainers, and Ric Salizzo (who produces the sensational nightly show "The Crowd Goes Wild"), but that's about it.

Our seats are great - perfect view from the 22, elevated.  Unfortunately while we will get to see the game, we won't get on to TV, which surely is the main aim.  Also we brought a flag with us, but removed the pole so it would fit in the luggage. If we want to wave it, then both me and my daughter need to stand up, and then it's lopsided.  Just across from the aisle, there are four Japanese Blues supporters, with a Japanese flag, shouting "Hori-e, Hori-e".  I show them the photos and I think they are impressed. 
Even the Rebels have kids merchandise
The game starts and things look good early. Two early shots on goal, both missed (one from right in front).  The "very close" Rebels we've been hearing about. Well not if Francis Saili and Rene Ranger have their way. The Rebs keep tackling high, and RR picks up JOC by the neck, dumps him, laughs, and then runs over the top like he's a broken Ken doll.  FS waltzes though Cooper Vuna in the same place three times for three tries.  Then the Rebs score - Higgo runs through the pack. Its hard to work out if they score because the crowd is just deathly silent.  No groans, no complaining, nothing. We start cheering, and that gets them going. They all start laughing. At us.

The good thing about having a 6yo with you is that people can't be too mean to you.  Next Rebels try and one guy behind us yells "Don't take your Mother to the Rugby".  I stand up with my daughter and yell "My mother would beat you up any day".  More laughing, and he's shaking his head.  

Ten minutes to go, and the 25 point deficit has been pulled back to 4 points.  You get the feeling the Blues were just toying with them, as they string a dozen phases, and the hole opens for Ranger to seal the game.  The final minute consolation try looks more like charity from the Blues than determination by the Rebs.

After the game and the 6yo gets high fives from those around her.  The crowd really were quite good to us.

Sadly, the Rebs weren't on our flight home.  Either they took the ridiculously early flight to be with their Mums, or just wanted to avoid us. We did have the Australian Masters Hockey team, but it wasn't the same.

Can't wait to see the schedule for next year.  I'm hoping for a Palmerston North game against the Hurricanes.  Other than that, I'm probably staying Melbourne bound.