Rugby has long been affiliated with the Olympic Park precinct. The advent of AAMI Park and the Melbourne Rebels is a perfect homecoming.
Melbourne & Olympic Parks, along with the Melbourne rugby community, is excited by Melbourne's new Super Rugby team Melbourne Rebels, which has made AAMI Park home.
A 'Melbourne Rebels' previously played in the one-off season of the Australian Rugby Championship, which started in August 2007. The Rebels won their first game played away against Canberra, and then followed up with a successful home game against East Coast Aces at Olympic Park in front of 5000 people. The Rebels made it all the way to the Grand final but lost 20-12 to Central Coast Rays.
The Olympic Park precinct has enjoyed a long connection with rugby union, dating back to the late 19th Century when four rugby clubs; the Pioneers, Rovers, Crusaders and Pirates competed for the Nash Trophy at the 'Friendly Societies' ground. After a lull, Victorian rugby fielded a team to play Australia in 1908 (before they embarked on a tour to Great Britain) and subsequently in 1909 the local Dewar Shield competition utilised the Amateur Sports Grounds. During the Melbourne Motordrome era (1924-1933), several matches were played between Victoria and representative teams such as the NZ Maoris and NSW Waratahs.
Rugby renewed its affiliation with Olympic Park in 1962 when it embarked on a joint lease of the Eastern Sportsground with the Melbourne Greyhound Racing Club. Besides weekly local fixtures, until the VRU vacated in 1987, Victoria played over 20 games against International teams at this ground. The Wallabies have also played intermittantly at Olympic Park over the past 50 years; in 1958 New Zealand Maori defeated Australia 13-6 , in 1961 Fiji drew 3-3, in 1994 Italy was defeated 20-7, and in 2006 Australia A crushed Fiji 80-9.
In 2011 a rebooted Melbourne Rebels team, coached by Rod McQueen, entered the ultra competitive Super Rugby competition which includes the best provincial teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Rebels signed players of the Julian Huxley, Danny Cipriani and Stirling Mortlock ilk, along with some of the most dynamic young players in rugby.
Whilst the debut match against the NSW Waratahs on 18 February wasn't quite the dream start the Rebels hoped for, the crowd of 25,524 was certainly an indicator that Super Rugby's newest club was not lacking for support. Whilst the first season realised only a few wins as the team adjusted to the demands of Super Rugby, with players such as James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale now on board, this season promises a swift upward trajectory.
(Thanks to Ron Grainger for the historical content.)
Visit the Melbourne Rebels website.