It feels like a double punishment
Discarded Wallaby loose forward Scott Higginbotham said Monday he was finding it hard to deal with missing the team's European tour, after being suspended for striking All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
Higginbotham was dropped from the squad to face France, England, Italy, and Wales after being handed a two-match ban over the McCaw kneeing and head-butting incident in the Bledisloe Cup Test in Brisbane earlier this month.
It effectively means a four-match ban, with coach Robbie Deans saying he could not take a chance on including Higginbotham, who would only be available for the final two Tests against Italy and Wales.
The blindside flank said it was tough to take.
"I copped the two-week penalty and, in that I also missed the tour, it's hard to swallow but if you do the crime you do the time and I guess I'm paying for it now," he told reporters.
"It feels like a double punishment but they have to cover all their areas and in that they needed a No.8 to come on tour to back up Cliffy [Wycliff Palu]."
He said he was trying to look at the upside of the ban, with unexpected time to integrate himself in the set-up at his new Super Rugby team, the Rebels, having moved from the Reds.
"Obviously I am disappointed that I can't tour with the Wallabies. Any time I miss out on the opportunity to play for my country it kills me," said Higginbotham.
"The best thing you can do is get back on the horse, work hard and be ready for the next challenge. If I get the call to go over, obviously I would jump at it. If it doesn't then I remain focused on playing well for the Rebels and earning back a gold jersey in 2013.
"Having played with a few of the guys in the Wallabies squad helps a little, but spending an off-season getting to know the franchise, my new teammates and the community is something I would not have been able to do from Europe, so that's a positive.
"The best place for me to be is around my new teammates.
"Blokes down here, there are some big boys," he said.
"Being with the Reds previously we were a small pack. We were a good team and we won the premiership with that pack but there are a lot of solid boys [here] and a lot of stuff to look forward to playing."
Former Wallaby flank and Rebels assistant coach Matt Cockbain says Higginbotham's influence over summer will be a huge factor for the team leading into the trials and the early rounds.
"It is extremely disappointing not to see Scott in the Wallabies year-end tour squad, he had been in fine form," said Cockbain.
"We as coaches want to see as many Rebels players representing the Wallabies as possible. At the end of the day, that's why we all coach.
"There is no doubt having Scott around for this off-season, as well as James [O'Connor], will be great for this squad, especially now with the average age dropping by around four years.”
The Rebels assembled on Monday for their third season of Super Rugby, with the entire squad attending an in-house camp in Melbourne.
The majority of the squad commenced their training on the October 15, while Wallabies Nick Phipps and Kurtley Beale both returned for the two day camp before they depart with the Wallabies for the European year-end tour.
The Rebels have found a new level of maturity this season, with Beale and Phipps both playing pivotal roles for the Wallabies during the inaugural Rugby Championship. It is a combination that is blossoming both on and off the rugby paddock.
"We are tough on each other for a reason, because we want to be better,” Phipps said.
"Every match I feel we are developing an appreciation of each other's play. There is no doubt that will be beneficial when we play together at AAMI Park for the Rebels in 2013.”
Phipps was thrilled to be back home for a short stay with the Rebels, where it only "feels like yesterday” when he was awarded the Players' Player Award in his rookie season.
"Melbourne is home now. The first two years have gone so quickly, I think the team and I have gained so much in such a short space of time," said Phipps.
"Melbourne is a special place to me. It's where I got my first chance at Super Rugby. Every time I visit I get the same excitement as though it was my first match. There is a certain energy about it. It feels good to be home.
"I always enjoy being home, it's been great to meet my new teammates and some of our members for the 2013 season.
"This next season will be the biggest year of Rugby Union for Melbourne and Victoria ever. The Rebels will play The British & Irish Lions, as will the Wallabies, and we play the opening match for the 2013 Super Rugby competition at AAMI Park.”