Cheetahs look set to maul rowdy Rebels

You would think that a team that has just conceded 10 tries and gone down to the worst defeat in the brief history of the franchise might have had an early night last Saturday, but you would be wrong. After losing 64-7 to the Sharks, the Melbourne Rebels chose instead to drown their sorrows at a Durban nightspot before later – much later, in fact – reassembling on the team bus to return to their hotel in Umhlanga.

Time was, of course, when what happened after the doors closed and the driver released the handbrake would have been kept in-house: what goes on tour stays on tour. But social media has no boundaries and rugby players are no different to the rest of the population. It doesn't matter how many times people are told to keep their phones in their pockets; the need to emote publicly trumps the need for privacy every time. Even the cardinals assembled to elect the new pope broke the rules.

So we know that Kurtley Beale punched Cooper Vuna, because Vuna tweeted the facts in the small hours of the morning. We know that Beale was "in a state of disrepair", as the Australian newspaper rather quaintly put it, when he got on the bus. And we also know that the pair were sent home to Australia on separate flights. All that remains to be seen is what sanctions they will receive.

The "okker" culture of Australian sport rallied round somewhat predictably. The great Tim Horan tweeted: "Should be sorted out by the players. Room them together, and get on with it." Michael Lipman, a former Rebel, said: "This easily could have been kept in-house. Sending them home has just created a media storm." This rather misses the point. The storm was created by the tweet, not by the media's reaction to it.

It is possible to feel sorry for the coach, Damien Hill, who seemed genuinely mortified by his team's performance when he spoke at the post-match media conference at Kings Park Stadium. He talked of his embarrassment at being in charge of such a display of violence and of players who were not prepared to "leave blood on the field". A few hours later, a shirtless Beale seemed happy to leave blood on the bus.

This week the remaining 24 Rebels travel to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs. Logically, we should expect a better performance from the Australians, but in practice Hill's team might struggle to keep it tidy. They are painfully short of high-quality players and facing a Cheetahs side that has just created history by winning three games in succession on the road in New Zealand and Australia.

Value of possession
It seems almost inconceivable now that Naka Drotske's boys began with a 45-3 pummelling against the Chiefs in Hamilton and then regrouped to beat the Highlanders, the Waratahs and the Force. It may speak of a competition that has become polarised, with half a dozen teams making up the numbers, a few capable of beating anyone on their day and an elite few with genuine title ambitions.

Into the latter category come the Chiefs, the Brumbies, the Crusaders, the Sharks and the Stormers and it would be ­surprising if the 2013 champions did not come from that group. Some might argue that the Bulls belong in the elite category, but the manner of their defeat by the Reds in Brisbane suggests otherwise.

Too repetitive in what they do, the Bulls need a tactic other than a succession of up-and-unders designed to draw errors from defenders. There is also a worrying propensity for losing the ball forward in contact, which speaks of a similar malaise; the inability to understand the value of possession.

The direction of the Stormers' season will be determined by what happens against the Crusaders in Cape Town this weekend. There is reason to believe that any side capable of winning with a bonus point against Jake White's Brumbies has nothing to fear, but the Crusaders have been a thorn in the flesh for the Cape franchise many times in the past.

Two years ago the Crusaders won twice in Cape Town. In log play they overcame huge adversity to win 20-14. They started the game without Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and had lost four back-line players to injury by half-time. Having won under such duress, by the time they came back for the semifinal at the same venue they were unstoppable, brushing aside the South African conference winners 29-10.

This week the Stormers will be without the suspended Steven Kitshoff, but far more pertinently, the Crusaders will not have Carter on tour. The master flyhalf has chosen to stay at his wife's side for the imminent arrival of their first child.

A generation ago such paternal instincts would have been derided; the game would have come first, particularly in a nation where the national psyche is determined by the results of rugby matches. But a generation ago an alcohol-induced skirmish on the team bus would have been adroitly dealt with in private and in an adult manner. One step forward and one step back, it seems.


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