Rugby ball. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Rugby ball. Picture: THINKSTOCK

He has looked at the Lions admiringly from a distance. Now for the first time as Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels has to get up close and personal when the teams lock horns at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It is clear Wessels holds a lot of admiration for the home team.

“We missed them last year‚” said Wessels in relation to one of the quirks of Super Rugby’s convoluted structure. “We didn’t play them so I didn’t look at them that closely. Everything they have achieved is pretty special. We’d like to emulate what they did‚” said the coach about the Lions’ consistency that has carried them to three consecutive finals.

“I remember meeting Johan Ackermann when I was coaching the Force in Perth and he was at the start of a journey. We won that game but I could tell he and his staff and players understood what they were trying to do and they were heading in that direction‚” said Cape Town-born Wessels.

It is not just the winning culture the Lions have established that has made them a team to try and mirror.

“Them being last year’s finalists means we’ve got a huge  challenge facing us‚” said Wessels. “They play a style of rugby that I admire. They play a fun style of rugby. They have a go. You can see all the boys enjoy it. I think Swys [de Bruin] coaches in a way the guys enjoy.”

Not that the Rebels should be daunted by the challenge at Ellis Park on Saturday. They share the honour with the Crusaders of being the only unbeaten teams in the competition. They also top the Australian conference.

That is quite a turn-around for a team that not too long ago was assembled from players who had little prospects elsewhere. There are distinct parallels in their journey compared to that of the Lions.

Although an admirer of the Lions‚ Wessels is plotting a third defeat of the season for De Bruin’s men.

The Lions introduced a clutch of youngsters for last week’s game against the Jaguares and almost all came through with flying colours. It makes De Bruin’s team selection more of a lottery this week‚ not that Wessels is dwelling on it.

“There will be characteristics that will remain the same regardless who they pick‚” said the Rebels coach.

“Those are the things we have to be good at. One of the mistakes we made in the past was spending a lot of time in the week thinking what the opposition is going to do and what we should do to counter that.

“Our mindset has changed a little. We just want to deliver the best version of ourselves in the game. We certainly have the players to cause some problems. That is our focus. It is much more energising to think about yourself.

“I don’t want that to sound as if we are disrespectful of the opposition but we are building our own game and our own story. We want to do that to the best of our ability.

“It will be a nice game. Both teams will have a crack and that will be good.”