Four days ago, the Wallabies retained the Trophée des Bicentenaires, following a pulsating 33-30 victory over a gallant France in the third and final Test in Brisbane.
Despite playing almost the entire match with just 14 players, the Wallabies roared back from an early deficit to record a famous victory at Suncorp Stadium, kick-starting their 2021 international season in the best way possible.
Seven Melbourne Rebels would take part in the enthralling three-match series.
Rebels’ Captain, Matt To’omua and 2020 Players’ Player, Matt Philip, joined the outgoing Isi Naisarani and Marika Koroibete, in playing all three matches, while Jordan Uelese and Reece Hodge made their national returns for Saturday’s thrilling decider.
Following a rewarding stint playing overseas in France’s Pro 14 league, Rebels’ lock, Matt Philip, said playing in front of his beloved Melbourne fans for the first time in over 16 months was a memorable occasion.
“I hadn’t been to back to Melbourne in over a year because of Covid-19,” said Philip.
“Last Super Rugby season, we were based in Sydney with the Rebels, so I was super excited to get back to Melbourne.
“They’re such passionate people and I love playing at AAMI Park - it’s the perfect place to play a Test match, being a smaller stadium where the atmosphere is unreal.”
Speaking on his time abroad, the twenty-seven-year-old says the experience has fast-tracked his overall development as a player, particularly with his tackling abilities.
“I definitely learnt a lot around the contact zone playing in the Top 14.”
“I had a big focus while I was over in France, about bringing my tackle focus down – there’s obviously a lot of big bodies over in that competition compared to Super Rugby.
“Especially with those French forwards who get their latches onto the ball carriers, it’s important to get down low, otherwise they’ll just bump you off.”
The seventh and final Melbourne Rebel to take part in the opening Test series was Andrew Kellaway, with the dynamic winger completing a remarkable journey by making his Wallabies debut in the first Test at Suncorp Stadium.
After breaking the try-scoring record at the 2014 Junior World Championships, a successful international career seemed inevitable for the scintillating talent.
However, injuries to his foot and throat marred Kellaway’s start to Super Rugby life, leaving not only his international ambitions in ruins, but potentially his career.
Following 25 appearances over four years with the Waratahs, Kellaway signed with English Premiership rugby side, the Northampton Saints, approaching the experience as a ‘fork in the road’ moment and a catalyst for future success.
“It was a big moment for me in my career, playing in a different country and out from that comfort zone,” said Kellaway.
“It’s important to me to pay some homage to that and make sure that it was recognised because it certainly had a big impact on me as a player.”
In 2020, the twenty-five-year-old would return to Australian rugby, signing with the Melbourne Rebels.
During his maiden season at The Stockade, Kellaway made 14 appearances, scoring 35 points, and becoming one of the Rebels’ most important players during their Super Rugby and Super Rugby AU campaigns.
Following a brief stint with Japanese side, the NEC Green Rockets, earlier this year, Kellaway unexpectedly returned to Melbourne ahead of the Rebels’ Trans-Tasman competition.
Off the back of two eye-catching performances against the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Leichhardt Oval, the Scots College prodigy would suddenly realise his boyhood dream, and win selection in Dave Rennie’s 38-man Wallabies Test squad.
“It was a bit of a pipe dream to be honest – I thought that ship had sailed.”
“It’s not so long ago, I was overseas and not quite sure if I would be back playing in Australia, let alone for Australia.
“I was already excited just to be back home, spending time with my family, my partner, my friends, and enjoying that part of my life which I obviously missed, so to get the call up was really special.”
Although selection didn’t guarantee Kellaway a Wallabies' debut, he only had to wait until the 67th minute of Australia’s first game to run onto the pitch – a moment he’ll never forget.
“I think the moment for me was when I got the tap on the shoulder to say that I was on in 30 seconds, and that was sort of my light bulb moment.”
“Then obviously the reality of it hits and you’re in the deep end, so I wasn’t thinking about the actual moment itself.
“I’m incredibly grateful, and super pumped that I was able to get on and have a crack.”
Kellaway would later back up his impressive debut with another strong performance in the second Test at AAMI Park.
Looming as an important component to the Wallabies' Rugby Championship aspirations, what was once a pipe dream has now become an exciting reality for our young Rebel.