Rebels stun Highlanders with late win
July 12, 2013
Melbourne Rebels finished their season in style with a last-gasp victory against the Highlanders
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Melbourne gave their Super Rugby coach Damien Hill and a host of departing players a fairytale finish as they came from behind to snatch a 38-37 win over the Highlanders.
Down 31-7 at half-time, the Rebels produced a stunning second half with Bryce Hegarty scoring the match-winning try in the final minute to steal victory. It was young Hegarty's second try, while winger Cooper Vuna and centre Tom English also finished with doubles.
Axed Wallabies fly-half James O'Connor came off the bench and gave the Rebels a taste of what they will be missing next season by throwing the final passes in three of five second-half tries.
The Highlanders ran in four first-half tries to seal a bonus point before the break and it looked for a time like that lead would prove too great for the home side to peg back in the season-ending game.
After a poor opening 40 minutes the Rebels looked a completely different outfit in the second stanza with some credit due to O'Connor. Told this week he wasn't wanted by Melbourne, the Test five-eighth came on early in the second half. Their attack looked sharper with his presence at No.10 as they fought their way back into the game.
It was a thrilling end for Hill, who will be replaced next season by Wallabies assistant coach Tony McGahan while Test stars O'Connor and Nick Phipps, skipper Gareth Delve, Vuna and retiring prop Nic Henderson all leaving the club.
In the first half they were constantly under pressure, making too many missed tackles thanks to the Highlanders' quick ball and pushed too many passes in their own territory. The visitors' first-half points came through tries scored by fullback Ben Smith, winger Hosea Gear, centre Tamati Ellison and then right on the buzzer by veteran prop Tony Woodcock.
But the Rebels turned the game around as Japan-bound Vuna showed the skills that made him the club's highest try-scorer with two five-pointers to get his team back to 34-19. The points onslaught continued as English scored his second of the night and then Hegarty crossed for his first.
Fullback Jason Woodward missed that conversion that would have given his team the lead for the first time in the night and then Highlanders fly-half Colin Slade slotted a penalty to open the gap to 37-33.
It looked like they would escape with a well-deserved win until Hegarty's game-stealing effort.
The Rebels end their season in style against the Highlanders (video available in Australia only)
Hill said it was a fitting finish to the season, which they ended with five wins - their best in their three years in the competition.
"I wasn't surprised by the result, we've been in this position before and we didn't panic," said Hill. "This team has a lot of talent and in the second half they showed what they can do."
Skipper Delve was thrilled to bow out with a win and paid tribute to O'Connor for his contribution coming off the Lions loss and then his shock sacking.
"That's not a bad way to sign off," Delve said of O'Connor. In terms of him leaving the club I thought it was outstanding. It was a fitting contribution from a quality player."
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