Rugby Australia has been forced to tweak its Super Rugby AU draw in a bid to get the Rebels to Perth and then back home to Melbourne for a first game at AAMI Park in more than a year.
The Rebels were due to face the Brumbies in Melbourne in Round 3 after opening their season against the Reds in Brisbane this Friday. But that would have prevented Dave Wessels' team from making it to Perth the following week, with Victorian travellers still subject to 14 days quarantine on their arrival in Western Australia.
Having escaped Melbourne for Canberra before Victoria's third lockdown came into force at Midnight on Friday February 12, the Rebels will now stay in the nation's capital for two further weeks to ensure they can face the Force and, finally, then return to Melbourne for what will hopefully be four straight games at AAMI Park.
"I want to thank Phil (Thomson) and the Brumbies, the Rugby Australia Return to Play Committee and our broadcast partners in Nine and Stan for their flexibility and support over the last few weeks," Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson said of the fixture switch.
"We can't wait to get back to Melbourne for our home game against the Waratahs in Round Five and play in front of the Rebels faithful at the Stockade.
"I also want to acknowledge our partners, and the Rebels players, staff and families for their continual sacrifice and tireless efforts for the benefit of the competition as a whole," Stephenson said.
The Rebels were forced to spend the entirety of last year's start-up Super Rugby AU competition on the road after Victoria's COVID-19 outbreak sent the state into an extended lockdown; the Force also had to relocate to the east coast to ensure the competition proceeded.
Players were away from their homes and families for months on end as a result, with the Rebels' Wallabies spending almost half of the year on the road.
Concerns about the mental health of some Rebels players had been raised as a result, with Stephenson telling The Australian some were nearing "breaking point".
While the change in schedule will result in two further weeks away from home, it hopefully means Rebels players will at last be able to set up camp at home following their trip to Perth.
"I would like to echo Baden's comments and pay special tribute to the families and friends of the Rebels playing group," Wessels said.
"They sacrificed so much last year and we're very grateful for their love and support. We can't wait to get home and play in front of you over the back half of the season," Wessels said.
The Rebels face a stern test against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium in their season opener with skipper Dane Haylett-Petty and fellow Wallabies squad member Isi Naisarani out with injury.
Wallabies veteran Matt To'omua is set to take the reins in Haylett-Petty's absence.
"He's a very, very experienced Super Rugby player so we're lucky to have someone like that but it's not only his responsibility," Wessels said.
"There's a whole group that have to take responsibilities for their areas.
"The Reds played well (in a 41-7 defeat of the Waratahs) and we'll have to play well to beat them, but that's always the case at Suncorp Stadium."
Queensland are coming off a 45-7 thrashing of the Waratahs in Round 1.