This weekend the Rebels come up against a team who have found themselves in a similar situation to what the Melbourne are currently in, but are also possibly the team that the boys in navy blue would love to follow in the footsteps of the most.
The Cheetahs, hailing from Bloemfontein in South Africa's central region, were founded in only 2005 and have found life rather difficult in Super Rugby, being labeled as one of the leagues "bye" teams -- harsh but true. That was all up until last season; since their first year in 2006, last season was the first time the Cheetahs managed to record more than 5 wins in a year, ending up with 10 to their name and climbing into the finals for the first time.
They have uncovered some stars in recent times -- most noticeably star fullback Willie Le Roux who has been a regular part of the Springboks squad for the last year, earning himself 12 caps in 2013 and scoring five tries. The Rebels have earmarked Le Roux as the man they need to stop when the Cheetahs are in possession due to his impeccable composure and ability on the ball. Already this season, Le Roux is the competitions joint leader of try assists with two to his name, and is the outright leader in total runs made with 25, and also in total kicks with 34 -- that includes the tight, scrappy contest last week at Loftus Versfeld against the Bulls in poor conditions... just imagine the freedom he may find himself in tonight on the surface of AAMI Park.
The Cheetahs are a team who like to spread the ball from touchline-to-touchline, so Le Roux is only going to be one part of the problem. Wingers Raymond Rhule and Cornall Hendricks both have a try to their name from the opening game of the season, and centre Francois Venter has made 26 tackles from the first two games -- they're a tough backline to come up against.
And speaking of tackles, the top three tacklers of the competition are all Cheetahs as well: Phillip Van Der Walt (36 tackles), Pieter Labuschagne (32) and Venter (26), with a further four players inside the top fifteen. The Rebels are going to be hard-pressed for time and space on the ball and will need to be quick and clean when in attack, and this may be the perfect opportunity to try and play that way with an energetic young backline and an experienced All Black Tamati Ellison all lining up for the Rebels tonight and all raring to go.
This is going to be a tough contest for the Rebels against a vastly improving Cheetahs outfit, but many pundits are still giving Melbourne a chance due to the fresh invigorated culture and new work ethic Tony McGahan has introduced to the club. Can the young Rebels open their season with a home win? And how much of an impact will Willie Le Roux have on the game tonight?