The Melbourne Rebels admit they’re in unfamiliar territory as they welcome their Wallabies back into the fold next week.
Sean McMahon has been the only regular Test player from the ranks of the Super Rugby club but he was joined on the Wallabies’ European tour late last year by Reece Hodge, Lopeti Timani, James Hanson and Sefa Naivalu.
Melbourne Storm league recruit Marika Koroibete was also in the squad while halfback Nic Stirzaker and prop Toby Smith spent time in camp in Europe.
Those players are back in training next week with less than a month before their first trial, against the Western Force on the Gold Coast on February 6.
Coach Tony McGahan is unsure how the contingent will manage their return.
“They’ve played a lot of rugby so we hope they’re well rested,” McGahan said.
“That’s probably a bit of new territory for us as usually they’d come back in right at the beginning of January and you’d get five or six weeks preparation before you get into your trials.”
The Rebels finished 12th in the 2016 Super Rugby standings, their cause not helped by a rash of injuries to key players.
McGahan said while it affected their on-field performances it also hindered their preparation.
“Our fitness took a hit because we couldn’t train enough because we didn’t have enough players,” he said.
“We had 140 training sessions and we had 30 players six times.
“Whatever sport it is, to have numbers to train and to be able to create competition and simulate game situations is really important.”
With Mike Harris now playing in France, Melbourne’s five-eighth jersey is up for grabs.
Reserve halfback Ben Meehan wore the No.10 jersey in the Rebels’ NRC team while ex-Wellington five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop is a new signing.
“We’re not closing anything on that,” McGahan said.
“Jack Debreczeni has been there the last couple of years and Garden-Bachop has come in and is a good player and young Jack McGregor is a really good young 10.
“Before Ben hurt his elbow he was playing really well there so we have a few options, which we didn’t have last year.”