MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The embattled Melbourne Rebels have cheered a bumper government deal to bring a British and Irish Lions test and other high-profile internationals to the Super Rugby team’s home city in Victoria state.
Melbourne is one of the world’s most crowded sports markets and the Rebels compete for fan interest, corporate dollars and broadcast minutes with no fewer than 12 professional soccer, rugby league and Australian Rules teams in the Victoria capital.
The Rebels have suffered multi-million dollar losses in maintaining a foothold for rugby union in the Australian Rules-mad city since joining Super Rugby in 2011.
They were one of two teams at danger of being axed from the contracting competition next year.
After months of legal wrangling, the Australian Rugby Union decided to cut the Perth-based Western Force instead, securing the Rebels’ future in the tournament after the state government committed to a major funding deal with the sport’s national governing body.
The fruits of the deal were revealed on Friday, with Melbourne to host six international tests over the next eight years, including Ireland next June and a coveted Bledisloe Cup test against world champions New Zealand in 2020.
Melbourne would also host a British and Irish Lions test when the touring side returns Down Under in 2025, the state sports ministry government said in a media release.
The Rebels have yet to reach the Super Rugby playoffs and finished bottom of the Australian conference this year after an injury-plagued season but are looking ahead with renewed optimism with the recruit of acclaimed coach Dave Wessels, who crossed from the defunct Force.
“The strength and power of the Victorian Government announcement is a significant boost to our Melbourne Rebels as we embark on a new and exciting era for the club,” Wessels said in a Rebels media release.
“The swell of government and community support for the Melbourne Rebels and Victorian rugby since the club’s future was secured has provided us with the foundation to deliver successful outcomes on and off the field.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford