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Mortlock's last home game ends on a low note

Stirling Mortlock gets ready to make his farewell speech after the game, as his children look on.

Stirling Mortlock gets ready to make his farewell speech after the game, as his children look on. Photo: Getty Images

Fairytales, sadly, only happen regularly in children's books.

Rarely do they occur on a rugby field, not even when the man at the centre of the storyline is a former Wallaby captain, a decorated hero of the code, who is saying his goodbye to the game that has shaped and directed his life for the bulk of his 35 years.

And so it turned out in Melbourne last night when the Rebels showed plenty of fight but ultimately went down 32-17 to the Reds, leaving Australian rugby legend Stirling Mortlock with a final bitter-sweet recollection of his last competitive top-level appearance on home soil.

We might, however, if we are in a generous mood, say that it was something of a fairytale that Mortlock even managed to take his place in the Rebels' starting line-up at all last night, as the second season team fronted up for its final home game of the year, against the Queenslanders.

The club captain was staring at an anticlimactic end to his domestic career for much of the week, a calf injury keeping him in doubt until right up to kick-off.

Still, in hindsight why would anyone have doubted that he would be there on such a momentous occasion?

Mortlock, despite an injury-interrupted career, has proved his toughness and strength of purpose year after year and this was just the final challenge to be overcome. Better by far to go down fighting in front of your own fans in your 144th game of Super Rugby as the figurehead of Australian rugby's newest outpost than to fade into retirement half a world away in South Africa, where the Rebels' final two games are scheduled to be played.

So as the teams warmed up it surprised few that Mortlock was out with his colleagues, limbering up and loosening, stretching sinews and muscles one final time in anticipation of the conflict to come.

And when he did emerge to lead his men into battle, the crowd made its appreciation clear. Mortlock walked out with his children holding tight, to savour the moment at a ground which was not even in the planning stages when his senior career began, in the colours of a club that didn't exist until two years earlier.

Mortlock gave as much as he could in the 40 minutes that remained in his battered body. There was an early touch, some trademark tackles, plenty of vocal instructions and arm-waving, and then it was all over. When the teams ran out for the second half he was conspicuous by his absence.

Mortlock's time with the Rebels in the twilight of his career has had its highlights.

He scored the club's first Super Rugby try, against the Brumbies, his former team, in the first season.

He also produced one of those trademark swallow dives earlier this year when he went over in what is regarded as the Rebels' finest victory, their stirring win over perennial powerhouse, the Crusaders.

But his role with the Rebels was always about much more than what he gave them on the pitch. Mortlock brought leadership and credibility, guile, experience, knowhow and the sort of ethos the club needed to develop in a hurry as it sought to establish itself in virgin territory for the sport.

He was only one of a number of men in blue bidding adieu to the 14,110 Melbourne fans who braved the cold last night.

Julian Huxley and Al Campbell, who both came off the bench, will also be elsewhere next season - the former playing in France, the latter in retirement.

Afterwards Mortlock sounded content. "It went really, really, well considering," he told Fox Sports, admitting that it had been a toss of a coin decision as to whether he played or not.

"I have enjoyed every moment of it. It's been fantastic and there are so many people that have helped me get here."

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Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG -1vs FJI -1 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00KPS
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinA 0vs RUpB 0 02:00Twic
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF1 0vs WQF2 0 02:00Twic
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
WSF1 0vs WSF2 0 03:00Twic
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
France 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0 0
Canada 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tonga 0 0 0 0 0 0
Japan 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Romania 0 0 0 0 0 0
Argentina 0 0 0 0 0 0
England 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 0 0 0 0 0 0
USA 0 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Fiji 0 0 0 0 0 0
Samoa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 0
South Africa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
 

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