Told to bag their bags for an unknown destination and an unknown period is tough on anyone, even sports stars who are human too

Two Fridays ago Matt Toomua woke up looking forward to a weekend camping trip.

But when his head finally hit the pillow after midnight it was in a Canberra hotel after a mad dash from Melbourne he and another 54 members of the Rebels playing, coaching and support staff had to make to avoid their season failing to launch.

Toomua said he and the convoy just got in to the ACT before midnight, with borders closing as Victoria went into lockdown.

They had left not knowing how long they would be away, and a week has now turned to a month, with border restrictions not only forcing the Rebels in to a fly-in, fly-out clash to open their Super Rugby AU season on Friday, but cost them a first home game in more than 12 months.

The mental toll of another season on the road, after spending four months of 2020 away from home, has been an ongoing concern, and one Toomua, who will captain the club until Dane Haylett Petty can overcome serious lingering concussions issues, said no-on has avoided.

“It’s not necessarily where you play rugby, the fixture changes, that’s the easy bit. It’s guys worrying about kids starting school and wives and partners working, it’s that stuff, the human element, that is more stressful,” Toomua said on Wednesday.

“It’s something that I personally have become a lot more aware of. Last year taught me a lot. We had a lot of guys going through all sorts of trauma, watching funerals on zoom calls, things that are hard to take, and a lot of the time on the field we have to be the ones setting the standard, being quite strict with guys. but it’s also about having some empathy and seeing how guys are coping.

“A lot of the young are probably having a ball, just finished school, on the road playing rugby. But there are some other guys who have families and young ones and while we might expect a lot of them because they are older but it’s not the easiest job.

“We’re all trying to look out for each other, and we’re making it up as we go a bit.”

Toomua said he even made a point of checking on coach Dave Wessels, a father of four himself, when it seemed he was carrying too big a load.

“When all this got announced people were asking him could they take their partner, could they take their golf clubs and all that. I just went up to him and said “how are you, you OK”,” he said.

“We expect a lot from him, and our doctor, we just think they are going to be there, but they have families, they have pressure.

“It’s really brought a human element to things. It’s not numbers and figures that motivate players, there’s so much that can have an effect on performance on the field.”

Despite the upheaval, Toomua said the Rebels’ rugby was “getting there” ahead of Friday’s clash with the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

“Ask anyone in pre-season, and they are all the bets team in the world,” He said.

“We’re in a pretty decent place to put in a good performance.”

The Rebels will wear a new-look jersey which includes a large “V” on the front to represent Victoria, and for the first time will also feature the iconic MELBOURNE logo as the centrepiece.

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