The pain of another close Super Rugby loss has been eased for the Rebels by the re-signing of athletic Wallaby back-rower Scott Higginbotham to the end of 2015.
The competition strugglers suffered another narrow loss on Friday night, falling to the reigning champion Chiefs 39-33 at AAMI Park. However, Higginbotham, who has been the stand-in skipper, sees better times ahead and has extended his contract with the Rebels and Wallabies through to the 2015 World Cup. He could have left at the end of this season but exercised his right to stay in Melbourne.
The Rebels are hoping fellow Wallabies star James O'Connor follows suit, with Kurtley Beale tipped to leave and return to Sydney to play with the Waratahs.
The Rebels have been active in the player market, recently re-signing promising young locks Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle and prop Paul Alo-Emile as well as luring Luke Burgess, Tom Sexton, Max Lahiff and Colby Fainga'a to the club.
Higginbotham joined the Rebels from the Reds and, mid-season, took over the captaincy from the injured Gareth Delve.
"The club has been fantastic and, while I never anticipated being captain, the chance to lead the team has been something I have enjoyed," the 26-year-old said. "There is always a temptation to look overseas, but I want success with the Wallabies and the Rebels first and foremost."
Higginbotham had four seasons with the Reds after making his debut in 2008 and endured some lean times when they finished 12th and then 13th in 2009 before their surge up the competition ladder, winning the Super Rugby title in 2011.
He felt consistent wins for the Rebels weren't far away: "I feel like we're closer than what the Reds were when we were coming through," he said."We would still lose by a lot of points and we weren't putting points on. Out there this year, it's one lapse in concentration and a small error. Two weeks in a row, we were 14 points down within the first 15 minutes and we're still coming to within seven and also saying we should have won the game."
A certainty to face the British and Irish Lions next month, Higginbotham scored a try in the first half while Pyle showed his skills to cross twice in their five-try haul. The Rebels next face the Blues in Auckland.