Melbourne coach Tony McGahan lauded Jack Debreczeni and Nic Stirzaker as Wallabies in waiting after the young Rebels almost orchestrated one of the great Super Rugby boilovers.
Debreczeni, 21, and Stirzaker, 24, proved more than a match for Australia’s incumbent halves pair Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps as the Rebels fell 18-16 to the NSW Waratahs in a thriller at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
After slotting three huge penalty goals, including one from well inside his own half, Debreczeni’s straight running, skill and vision set up a late try for Bryce Hegarty that left Waratahs fans with hearts in their mouths in the desperately tense final moments.
Stirzaker has been drawing rave reviews all season and again showcased his talents against the titleholders.
But it was the poise and mighty boot of Debreczeni that caught the eye of the Waratahs’ Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
“I’d say he could have kicked one from 60 (metres) out the way he was kicking,” said Cheika, adding that the performance of the “great young halves” was even more impressive given the Rebels lost experienced playmaker Mike Harris early on to a cork.
“It’s very clear that he (Debreczeni) has a good temperament because he took every opportunity that was available to him, both with his foot and also in hand.”
McGahan was bitterly disappointed with the loss, especially after NSW’s last try to winger Rob Horne came in the play after a refereeing sideline blunder denied the Rebels a lineout throw.
But he was buzzing about the Rebels’ two young shining lights.
“Both Nick and Jack, we’ve got a lot of confidence in them,” he said.
“We backed them all the way through the pre-season. It’s evident in the way that they’re playing together how much of a contribution they make to the Rebels side and certainly to the improvement of where we’re going.”
McGahan believes it’s inevitable Debreczeni and Stirzaker will scale the heights to Test rugby.
“Absolutely they will get there at some point in time,” he said.
“Whether that’s now or that’s in the future, there’s no doubt within the coaching staff and there’s certainly no doubt within the playing group about where Jack and Nick will end up.”
Showing the fine line in Super Rugby, the Rebels’ two-point defeat leaves the fledgling franchise with a mountain to climb to make the finals for the first time.
But had they won, the Rebels would have been ahead of, or level with, the Waratahs in the Australian conference and breathing down the neck of the Brumbies with a game in hand.
“I think we showed what a good side we are in the second half and what a great spirit we have,” McGahan said.
“To be able to be able to come back and win the second half 13-5, I think is a fair effort.”