Morgan Turinui has revealed that the Melbourne Rebels’ controversial decision to end Sunday’s clash with the Highlanders came from the club’s staff and not the players.
The Rebels won the match 31-30 at AAMI Park but the bonus point the Highlanders earned by losing by seven points or less was enough for them to pip the Western Force and take the eighth and final spot in the Super Rugby Pacific quarter finals.
The home side had the opportunity to play on and score a converted try that would have erased the Highlanders’ bonus point and catapulted the Force into the finals.
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But instead of kicking to touch for a lineout after winning a late penalty, the Rebels decided to tap and kick it out to end the game and the Force’s season.
“I was on the sideline watching it all unfold and the whole team on the field wanted to go to the line,” former Rebels assistant coach Turinui said on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven.
“They were set up to the line, they went for the call and they were being yelled at by staff members on the sideline, some of them who were previously at the Western Force, to tap it and kick it out and finish the game. Which I found really interesting.
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“The players had the mindset ‘we’re just going to go.’ Now whether it was the Western Force context why or they just felt they had more rugby in them, I found that interesting.”
And the extra context is the Force’s culling from Super Rugby in 2017 when Rugby Australia chose them for the axe instead of the Rebels.
“The point was made to me after the game, (Rebels coach) Kevin Foote, it’s a performance-based job right, and he finishes the season and says ‘yep, I beat the Highlanders, I beat a New Zealand team,” Rugby Heaven host Nick McArdle said.
“He’s got that on his resume now, maybe that counts.”
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Georgina Robinson said criticism of the Rebels was unfair.
“It would have been of course a beautiful storybook ending, wrap it up in a big, red, velvet bow, to that civil war vibe between the Force and the Rebels,” Robinson said.
“But that’s not real life and the Rebels, you’ve got to imagine it from their perspective. I don’t think they’ve finished a season on a win either so that was pretty special.
“And they did want to – I know the captain Michael Wells wanted to, Matt To’omua wanted to, but should they have risked another 90 seconds of madness, which two weeks earlier had cost them the Blues win?”
All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens concurred and said the Force’s situation should not even enter the equation.
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“No, absolutely not. Your only responsibility is to yourself,” Mehrtens said.
“They were never going to make the playoffs, that’s their last game of the season, that’s it. You want to go out on a winning note. The Highlanders, a couple of years ago in South Africa, scored three tries in the last four minutes.
“They only need to pinch one lineout take right on their own line, go the length, a few phases – they can do that. So absolutely ensure the victory, full stop.”
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