Scott Higginbotham has left an indelible mark on the Melbourne Rebels, but the outgoing captain is confident the Super Rugby club will thrive without him.
The Rebels’ fifth and most successful season will end on Friday night when they face Western Force at AAMI Park.
It will double as Higginbotham’s swansong, with the enterprising back-rower to join Japanese club NEC Green Rockets on a two-season deal after this year’s World Cup.
The 28-year-old leaves with a tinge of regret.
“There’s a few things we didn’t get to tick off this year – a win in South Africa,” Higginbotham said on Thursday.
“There were a number of games we could have and should have won … we could have made the finals.”
However, the overriding emotion for the Wallabies flanker is pride.
When Higginbotham departed the Queensland Reds after the 2012 season, he joined a franchise that had achieved little.
This season the Rebels knocked off every Australian side, with the exception of the NSW Waratahs, and were in the finals race until last month’s winless tour of South Africa.
Higginbotham has helped changed the culture, while developing the youngsters alongside him.
“The first or second year down here I was the only one away with the Wallabies,” he said.
“Last year we had Sean McMahon, Tom English and Luke Jones all on the spring tour.
“With the back-row we’ve got and all the depth, no doubt the boys will step up and I won’t be too missed.”
Higginbotham suggested his impending departure had yet to sink in.
“It’s hard to think about it when you’re still playing games,” he said.
“No doubt it’s going to be emotional … but for now we still have a job to do.”
Utility forward Jones, a foundation player at the Rebels who has prospered under Higginbotham’s leadership, was full of praise for his mentor.
“He’s had a huge influence on my career … he’s been tremendous for us,” Jones said.
“He’s cool, calm and collected. But I think he’s pretty sad to leave the group and we’re equally sad to see him go.”
The Rebels named an unchanged side.
“It was a relatively easy decision to retain the same line-up for Saturday,” coach Tony McGahan said, referencing the side’s last-start win over the Bulls.