Just when you thought Melbourne wasn't going to get any more sporty, with our twelve dozen footy teams and a calendar year demarcated not by seasons but by sporting events, this bonkers city goes and throws a rugby union team into the mix. After a decade of intrigue and no shortage of backroom shuffling, powerbroker-lunches and political messing around, the new Super 15 franchise - the Melbourne Rebels - has emerged, mewling, puking, wet-behind-the-ears into the ultra-competitive Victorian sporting market: thus far, it's proved a real success story. The team have already won three games, which is a whole three more than Super Rugby debutants normally win. They've showed power in the forwards, a fair amount of passion right across the park, and average crowds of 17,000 as well as a sizeable TV audience have impressed.
The mix of players is excellent. It's a mongrel team, sourced from not-quite-past-it veterans from around the world, players who've maybe lost half a yard of pace but who have the nous and the bottle to be able to front up to what's still (but maybe for not much longer) the most competitive league in the world. McQueen has got the balance right with a Northern Hemisphere style approach to forward play - more competitive, fundamentally tougher, constantly trying to win turnovers - with rugby-league style approach to the drift defence and good, proper, old-school oomph around the breakdown. There's a long way to go. There's no Plan B at any stage yet, which is to be expected with a young team like this: but leadership around the park and the team's commitment, bravery and street smarts - bodes well for the future.
Of course, there are problems. First and foremost of these is that shockingly dreadful "Les Miserables" anthem that's shoved down our collective throats at every home game. One of the Sydney mavens behind the team is a big patron of the arts and so has decided that this dirge is appropriate for a rugby match. It's not, it's terrible. And rugby people, if you didn't know already, don't take kindly to being subjected to this sort of marketing-via-public address system. It's wrong. Stop it. Similarly with the "Rebels" metaphor being over-extended. Now we're being invited to call the Rectangular Stadium "the Stockade"... please, lads. Grow up. The shirt is grand, the 'stars' understandable, the team ethic and mottoes reasonable in the context of trying to build a new sporting brand. But let's not over-egg the pudding. And for the love of all that's good and holy, get rid of that focking song.
I've talked about this elsewhere, but the fly-half/out-half/first five for the Rebels, Sir Daniel of Cipriani, is the glaring sore point on a team full of bravery and commitment. The former Wasps and England show pony continues his petulant ways down under, and I fully hope and expect Stirling Mortlock to deck him one of these days. Aesthetically pleasing no-look passes do not a modern outhalf make, as the Dan Carters (or dare I say it, Johnny Sextons) of this world will tell you. He's lazy, a show off and not nearly as good a kicker as he clearly considers himself to be.
Thirdly, and this is simply the drunken Irishman in me talking, the fact that I can't get a proper drink at the Rectangular Stadium despite my Platinum membership is simply unacceptable. It sounds like a small thing: it's really not. It goes, charmingly and for over a century, with rugby and it's an expected part of the occasion, the bonhomie and the craic. Hate to sound superior, but we're not soccer fans. We expect, and deserve, better. The "I will never drink midstrength again for the rest of my life" revolution starts here. Beverage manager, take note.