By Richard Jones

It was never going to be an easy assignment.

A Victorian venturing forth to take in his first, live look at a transplanted northern states’ code in Australian Rules heartland.

But I agreed to accompany our English son-in-law, his Dad who’s out in Oz on a summer holiday and sundry Queenslanders and other non-Victorians to AAMI Park.

That’s the new boutique stadium in Swan Street, which I had watched arise from its very beginnings in the space between Gosch’s Paddock and the old Olympic Park.

The occasion was last season’s Super Rugby wooden spooners, the Melbourne Rebels, taking on the mighty NSW Waratahs. And the night had its own personal significance for me.

It meant the end of the self-imposed February Fast. After 29, alcohol-free days I could at last down a few cold pints pre-match, and then some other God-awful concoctions at the new stadium.

It looked like a reasonable crowd milling around the turnstiles as we arrived, full of bonhomie and beer washed down at a Yarra River-side bar.

But once inside the crowd looked sparse. And this for a season opener highlighted by the debut of the Rebels’ new recruit, James O’Connor, splashed in that morning’s Age sports pages. I’d dutifully read the O’Connor Q and A story as a sort of before-the-game homework assignment.

When the match got underway, the Waratahs soon made their presence felt. Tom Carter brushed through an attempted O’Connor tackle to score under the posts down our end and after 11 minutes the NSW Sky Blues were leading 7-3.

O’Connor made amends for a woeful tackling effort to land his second penalty of the night as the Rebels narrowed the gap to 7-6. But two more Waratah tries — Carter ran in for his second — left the Melbourne side trailing 22-6 at the break.

“What had I thought of it?” I was asked. Well, to see a lineout at reasonably close quarters was a revelation. Busy, big blokes hoisting even bigger blokes skywards by their shorts so these behemoths can get first hands on the pill has always made me giggle.

Forget about the instant wedgies, not to mention other severe constrictions and contractions in the groin area, suffered by these Titans as they are propelled upwards.

And yeah, I know it’s from union lineouts that the idea for Australian football’s boundary throw-ins originated. It just makes me giggle, that’s all, to the fury of a Kiwi in our party.

And the other thing I’d come to see? Well, some biffo, if you don’t mind.

We were duly rewarded when right adjacent to the interchange bench (I’m not aware of the official union term) an agitated Rebel in the person of Mitch Inman landed a good one on the chops of NSW’s Sarel Pretorius.

No, jumper punching here, mind you. A good solid shot over the top to land flush on target. The obligatory push-and-shove between the players continued for a while before the harried referee restored order.

The Rebels looked marginally better in the second half. Attacking the end where we were perched, a colossal heap of entangled bodies moved close to the Melbourne try-line.

The ref awarded the Rebels a penalty try which meant I had to consult some experts alongside me. Turns out that NSW hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was ruled offside and, additionally, responsible for collapsing the Rebels’ maul.

It just looked a mess, to me, with blokes only just off the deck and barely able to hold their footing. Anyway, Polota-Nau was sin-binned for 10 minutes giving Melbourne a man extra on the field.

Having converted the penalty try, O’Connor landed a couple more Rebels’ penalties, the Waratahs ran in for another try and we left for a Federation Square bar en route to Flinders Street.

The Kiwi by now was almost apoplectic with rage because of my disdain for his beloved code. We didn’t wish each other farewell as we filed out.


Final score: Waratahs 35, Rebels 19.

The crowd, incidentally, was just 16,491. I was informed, quite emphatically, I was the “one” on the end of this set of figures.

The “One”. The non-believer. The person turning down a chance of conversion, of redemption.

And happy to be that, I must say. I won’t be hurrying back to AAMI Park for any more Super Rugby fixtures.

I didn’t have the heart to tell the Kiwi, the Brits and other interlopers that there’d been a couple of thousand more people at Docklands the previous Friday. And they’d attended to watch just a “kick and giggle” AFL pre-season set of matches.

Hang on, a minute. I think I did. You can’t let the silly sods escape scot-free without portioning out some sackcloth and ashes!



  1. Rocket Nguyen says

    Comrade Dick,

    Can’t believe it was your first game of rah-rah…

    Surely when you’re were studying at Sydney Uni in the early 60s you saw the Mighty Students play…?
    A successful period when they won the Shute Shield in 1961-62.

    At the SUANFC in the 80s we trained at the same time on No 1 with the rugby boys.
    Had to be careful not to run through Farr-Jones, Hawker et al and to run around Peter FitzSimmons.

    BTW, the current coach of the Rebels, Damian Hill coached Uni to a string of premierships in recent years.

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