Safari puts Rebels in mood to tackle Sharks
Laptops were out and the preparation was as close to normal as possible for the Melbourne Rebels this week, except for the elephants in the background.
The soundtrack of the South African bush was permeating team meetings over the last couple of days too as the entire travelling party enjoyed a safari, which lock Ross Haylett-Petty said had left them all buzzing.
Instigated by coach Dave Wessels, a South African native, the Rebels stayed at the Madikwe Safari Game Reserve, near the border with Botswana, mixing match preparation for Sunday's clash against the Sharks in Durban with a "once in a lifetime experience".
Haylett-Petty is the brother of captain Dane who were both born in Durban before moving to Perth as children and while the animal encounters weren't new to him, he said the expressions on some his teammate's faces were priceless.
He said the whole experience also lifted the spirits of the entire playing group which were "pretty dark" after last week's heartbreaking post-siren loss to the Lions in Johannesburg.
"A lot of the boys have never had this kind of experience and you could see on their faces how exciting it is for them. I have done it a couple of times but even for me this time is the best," Haylett-Petty said after the last morning drive in the game reserve on Wednesday.
"Where we are offers a whole heap of cool experiences, and we're not only in the back of cars, the boys are running around chasing animals.
The South African sky turned it on for the boys at training this week 🙌🏽 pic.twitter.com/9QR8FlMjRh— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) 19 March 2019
"The boys were down pretty hard after last week, but we know we are a good enough team to bounce back from it. And the spirits rise pretty quick when you have a good group together.
"I think this safari is having such a positive effect, too. We're becoming close with everything we do together outside of training and hotel rooms."
The safari was part of a number of different experiences offered to the Rebels during the two weeks in South Africa to "immerse themselves" in the continent, where Melbourne has never won, and become closer as a team.
"We thought the safari would have been a cool idea, and we put it to Dave, and he was already ahead of the game. He and the front office had thought of it before us," he said.
"We've been fitting in as much training as we could in the park. The laptops are still out, the boys have been in meetings, talking about rugby. But during the downtime we are trying to embrace Africa properly.
"We train like we do in Melbourne, similar times, them in the down time there are places for us to be, cool experiences, opportunities to see Jo'burg, some boys went to the townships, and now we're in the bush.
"We are trying to create the connectedness of the team while on tour."
But the game against the Sharks has never been far from mind, and the importance of a win hasn't been lost in the excitement of doing so many other new things.
"We're still preparing like we are ready to go. It is different but we are all really enjoying it, we think we'll be ready to go," Haylett-Petty said. "We know we are good enough rugby players, now it's about being the best team possible. This idea of connectedness is really important, we are all trying to get the best out of each other.
"We're excited to put the last game behind us. It puts fire in the belly when you lose after the siren we so we're all keen to make this trip to Durban a good one."