Rebels score first ever win over Waratahs
May 24, 2013
Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham was outstanding despite the Waratahs targetting him in defence
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Melbourne Rebels put a serious dent in the Waratahs' surge to the Super Rugby finals with a 24-22 upset win on Friday night.
The Rebels finally got a taste of victory against the Stormers last round, following a series of close defeats, and made it two from two at AAMI Park with their first-ever win over New South Wales.
The loss could be a near fatal blow to the Waratahs' finals hopes given they were already outside the top six heading into the match.
New South Wales halfback Brendan McKibbin had the chance to grab a late victory with a penalty kick with two minutes remaining but sent the ball right of the uprights.
The Rebels again secured the win without their stars with James O'Connor (injured) and Kurtley Beale (suspended).
Skipper Scott Higginbotham and dangerous fullback Jason Woodward were among their best.
The Waratahs led 19-13 but two penalty kicks by Woodward, thanks to ruck infringements by New South Wales flanker Michael Hooper, tied up the match and Melbourne got their tails up.
After a break by Woodward they sent the ball wide and Lachlan Mitchell found winger Tom English who dived across the line in the 75th minute for his second try of the night.
It was a sweet moment for Mitchell, who threw a pass just before halftime that was intercepted by Israel Folau, which gave NSW a 16-13 halftime lead.
English also scored in the ninth minute after a sweeping backline move.
The Waratahs had their chances to wrap up the match.
McKibbin slotted a penalty with 13 minutes remaining to break the 19-19 deadlock.
He stepped in after the Waratahs goal-kicker Wallaby Berrick Barnes left the field in the 53rd minute looking troubled by a leg injury.
But McKibbin was unable to repeat the feat for his team's most important kick.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika agreed with the summation by his opposite Damien Hill that his NSW team was out-enthused.
He lamented their high error count as they pushed passes, with the Rebels showing more fight at the breakdown.
"They had more energy for the game and we didn't have that energy and it cost us," Cheika said. "Winning attitude doesn't have a weekend off. Even at the end when we got in the situation when we could have snuck it, we weren't desperate enough to stay alive in the game."
Melbourne Rebels upset New South Wales Waratahs with two-point victory in Melbourne (video available in Australia only)
Cheika said that while plenty of people wanted to "backslap" the Waratahs and say they were finals-bound, he wasn't convinced.
"We're not at that level and I knew that but everyone wanted to tell me otherwise," he said. "We're going to have to wallow in that defeat and rebuild ourselves."
In contrast, Rebels mentor Hill was thrilled by his team's effort and said it was even more enjoyable than their last-round win over the Stormers.
"Playing local derbies there's a lot more history and feeling," he said. "We weren't as clinical as we could have been in a lot of areas but the pleasing thing for me was the grit that they showed as a 22. There were some tremendous effort in defence and some great support in attack. They definitely played with more urgency at the breakdown and that was the difference in the end."
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