Rebels rediscover winning form in Perth
April 6, 2013
Melbourne Rebels coach Damien Hill remains under pressure
© Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels regained a measure of lost pride after their horror tour of South Africa, defeating Western Force to claim their third away win over the Perth-based team, New Zealand Under-20 winger Jason Woodward the star turn on the scoreboard with two tries and one pulled back for a forward pass.
The Rebels have never defeated anyone other than the Force away from home, but they were rarely threatened after jumping out to a 15-point lead in the first half. The visitors returned to Australia off the back of five consecutive defeats and troubled by recent off-field disciplinary problems, but they proved too strong for hosts forced to play catch-up rugby for much of the contest and left to rue three unsuccessful kicks from Sias Ebersohn and Kyle Godwin.
"It's a great way to finish the tour," Scott Higginbotham said, enjoying the win on debut as Rebels captain. "Probably not the exact game we'd like to play, but a win all the same."
Higginbotham was proud of the way his team-mates dug in as the Force set about the Rebels' lead, saying: "We've been playing well the first half then dropping off towards the end of it, and letting teams in at the start of the second. The boys just need a bit of confidence; confidence that they can win the game. And I think we showed that at the end."
Force captain Matt Hodgson said simply that his side had gifted quality players such as Higginbotham and James O'Connor too much ball and too much space. "You can't give sides a start in this competition, and 15 points is a lot in a game; we can't afford to do that."
Hodgson hinted the Force would be doing a lot of soul searching before they play the Crusaders, the New Zealand side also on their way home after a tough tour of South Africa. "We're a good team that can battle for 80 minutes, but we need to be a lot better than that," he said. "We went into individual game points instead of playing as a team, so that's disappointing."
Hugh Pyle got the Rebels on the board early © Getty Images
Hugh Pyle got the Rebels underway, taking full advantage of a gaping hole in the home side's right-flank defence to power over from close range before an unfortunate error from Will Tupou gifted the visitors a second try. Attempting to field a regulation grubber kick slipped through by Angus Roberts, the Force fullback lost his footing and onrushing winger Woodward gleefully snapped up the loose ball and crossed the line unopposed to claim his first Super Rugby try.
O'Connor added the extras from in front but the score seemed to galvanise the Force, who went on to dominate the rest of the opening period. Hugh McMeniman just failed to ground the ball in the corner after some footwork from the impressive Godwin had carved the visitors open in midfield, and the hosts finally reduced the arrears on the half-hour mark. Opting to take the scrum when presented with a penalty in front of the posts, the Force were eventually rewarded for their adventure as Winston Stanley crossed for his second try of the season. After missing the touchline conversion, Ebersohn duly found his range to land two penalties and send his side into the break trailing by only four points.
The Rebels reappeared for the start of the second-half with O'Connor moving to fly-half, Richard Kingi to fullback and Cooper Vuna introduced on the wing as Roberts made way, and the changes bore fruit within eight minutes as O'Connor's perfectly timed pass gifted Kingi the opportunity to grab his side's third try of the game.
The Melbourne Rebels showed great character in Perth (video available only in Australia)
O'Connor landed a long-range penalty to take the Rebels out to a 23-11 lead moments later, and the Force seemed to be staring down the barrel. But in keeping with the tightly fought tradition of this fixture, that deficit was swiftly reduced and the game thrown wide open once again.
Tupou shrugged off the attentions of Rory Sidey to claim the first try of his Super Rugby career, and Godwin converted to leave the Force trailing by only five heading into the final quarter. Their tails up and their fans raising the decibel level, the hosts thundered forward and tied things up at 23-23 on 66 minutes, when Stanley's grubber sat up perfectly for winger Pat Dellit to become the third player on the night to score his first Super Rugby five-pointer.
The see-sawing contest took yet another dramatic twist as Woodward crossed again, beating a clutch of Force defenders to touch down his own chip and chase with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The try seemed to kill the Force's challenge, as the hosts failed to raise a charge and the Rebels comfortably saw out the final moments to secure a carbon copy of their 30-23 victory in week one.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand with Sportal
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