Danny Cipriani. Photo: Getty Images
INAUGURAL Melbourne Rebels coach Rod Macqueen has witnessed the remarkable and almost instantaneous transformation the team has had since Danny Cipriani departed.
Yesterday, when asked if the recruitment of the one-time England five-eighth had been a mistake, Macqueen replied: ''That's a difficult one to answer.'' When asked if he regretted it, he said: ''I wouldn't go that far''.
''Sometimes these things work out, sometimes they don't,'' Macqueen said. ''I think at the end of the day, Danny brought some good things to the club and as we all know there were issues.''
The Rebels last month released Cipriani from the remainder of his contract after the 24-year-old had announced he was leaving at the end of the season to play for the Sale Sharks and attempt to reclaim an England berth. Cipriani's place at five-eighth was taken by Wallabies star Kurtley Beale, who moved from full-back.
With Beale in the playmaker's role - a preview of which was seen when he replaced Cipriani midway through the round nine game against New South Wales - the Rebels have looked a different team, performing beyond expectations to push the Bulls in an honourable 41-35 loss before snaring the upset of the year by beating the seven-time champion Crusaders 28-19 last Saturday.
The Rebels are 12th on the table on 24 points, three points behind traditional Australian powerhouse NSW, and play the struggling Western Force this Sunday.
Cipriani's recruitment to the new franchise last season was announced with fanfare as the Rebels' first signing, despite his reputation as a wild boy. But the Englishman was punished several times for off-field incidents in his 1½ seasons as a Rebel and his form was inconsistent.
Macqueen, who has been succeeded as coach by Damien Hill but remains on the club's board, conceded Cipriani's image never fit with the culture the Rebels were trying to foster.
''It is fair to say that was always an issue, we were constantly fighting,'' Macqueen said. ''I think Danny tried, but I think it's also fair to say we had issues there.
''When you have problems like that you've got to work through them and that's what we tried to do and we got some good things out of Danny when he was here and hopefully he got some good things from us, not only on the field but off the field.''
Macqueen said he could see only good things for the team with Beale guiding it - his influence already being seen in the improved performances and increased confidence of half-back Nick Phipps - and the likes of James O'Connor to return from injury.
''There's no doubt that this team is doing some really good things this year and you can see it with the enthusiasm that's coming from the players,'' Macqueen said. ''I think the attitude of the players and the team at the moment is really good. It's one of really having a go and showing off what they're capable of doing.
''We've seen a lot of tries and we've seen some really good rugby being played and I think when you've got a positive attitude like that anything can happen, so we've got to be hoping that will bring more results for us.
''Every good team needs to have good ball players in it and Kurtley's certainly bringing that to us and obviously the same thing with O'Connor, when he's on the field, and the players are really working well around them. The pleasing thing is how well the team is playing as a whole and how well they're working their shapes.''