Rebels beat Reds in controversial climax
May 17, 2014
The Rebels' Ben Meehan, Jason Woodward and Hugh Pyle celebrate victory
© Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels have claimed their first victory over Queensland Reds in dramatic and controversial fashion, Jason Woodward kicking the match-winning penalty goal after referee Steve Walsh had reversed a decision on advice of the television match official who had seen a "serious incident" of "hands in the eye".
Walsh had penalised Sean McMahon for retaliation after an incident involving Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham and Reds replacement Ed O'Donoghue, and Mike Harris had kicked the ball out for a lineout deep in opposition territory. But the New Zealand referee reversed the decision on the advice of his TMO, Steve Lescinski, and red-carded O'Donoghue.
Reds captain James Horwill was devastated both by the defeat, the Reds' sixth loss in succession, and the manner, saying immediately after the match that "we were robbed a stupid refereeing decision".
Horwill said that O'Donoghue had reacted after being head-butted by Higginbotham, the result completing a bad night after Quade Cooper sustained a shoulder injury like to sideline him for a month.
And he was still livid at the official post-match press conference, saying that constant TMO stoppages and rulings were "ruining Super Rugby".
"I have played more than 150 games of professional rugby and I have never ever ever seen that happen before," he said of Lescinski's late overrule. "It's got beyond a joke."
Horwill said that O'Donoghue gave Higginbotham a facial after being headbutted and had no intention of gouging.
"I think it was pretty clear there was a clash of heads," he said. "'Higgers' hasn't got a scratch on him. "'Higgers' was as surprised as anyone at the penalty."
Reds 27-30 Rebels (video available only in Australia)
Rebels coach Tony McGahan said he was thankful that Lescinski had made the bold call because it was the right decision, while Rebels flanker Scott Fuglistaller said: "Anything around the head is a sacrosanct area, that's what we are told by referees.
Luke Burgess claimed two tries before suffering a leg injury, and the Rebels appeared to have the match parcelled up in the second half as a result of their offloading and greater efficiency in attack. But Ben Lucas, Cooper's replacement, put the Reds back into the contest at 24-all with a 67th minute try. The sides then traded penalty goals before the Higginbotham-O'Donoghue scuffle, which Walsh had let go before he penalised McMahon for being the third man in.
Higginbotham said he was "extremely happy with the effort of the boys".
"It was a tough contest," he said. "At the end of the day it's not how you want to win a game, so that's a bit disappointing, but very happy; we were well overdue for a win."
Tom Kingston, who scored the Rebels' first try, described the victory as "unreal, a great win for our club" while team-mate Luke Jones, who performed strongly again to press his claims for Wallabies squad selection on Thursday, said "it was a real team effort ... we had some great offloads tonight and our structure is to make the most of the ball and don't leak possession".
Cooper thought the Reds "were doing some great work getting some front-foot ball, and the backs were really making the most of that, and there's so many opportunities out there".
"The boys kept fighting right to the end but at the same time it's not good enough; we're falling short by three points so many times, and it's tough, but we'll stick together".
The result left James Horwill and his team-mates devastated © Getty Images
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