England international fly-half Danny Cipriani kicked a last-minute penalty goal to snatch a euphoric first Super 15 victory for newcomers Melbourne Rebels yesterday.
Cipriani’s kick clinched a thrilling 25-24 win for the Rebels over two-time champions ACT Brumbies to bounce back from their deflating debut a week ago.
The Rebels were a far different proposition from the team that was flogged 43-0 by the NSW Waratahs, overcoming a massive disparity in possession to defeat the Brumbies with commitment and workrate.
It was a crowning night for Cipriani with five penalties and a conversion from seven attempts, plus a sublime general kicking performance in a week where he was put under a club investigation for a nightclub incident.
“I was very delighted to kick the goal, but it was a whole team performance and right when it counted our experience came through and everything that we’ve worked for,” Cipriani said. “Defense is something I’ve had to work on a lot to make sure that I can front up because this is the best league in the world.”
Stirling Mortlock scored the Rebels’ first Super 15 try to put the newcomers in front 22-19 with seven minutes left.
However, it looked as though their inspired performance would come to nothing when Henry Speight scored the Brumbies’ second try minutes later.
The Rebels regrouped for one last effort and Cipriani got his chance to kick for goal when referee Jonathan Kaplan reversed a scrum penalty after Salesi Ma’afu was nabbed for pushing.
Cipriani guided the ball between the uprights to set off wild celebrations among the home crowd.
HIGHLANDERS V CHIEFS
Perennial Super Rugby strugglers the Otago Highlanders continued their brilliant start to the season by grinding down the Waikato Chiefs for an upset 23-13 win in Dunedin yesterday.
The Highlanders, who surprised the Wellington Hurricanes 14-9 in the season-opener last week, overcame a fumbling start to score two tries in the second half and keep the Chiefs scoreless for the last 55 minutes.
Winger Kade Poki scampered over the line in the left corner to score the decisive try with seven minutes remaining, after he was set up following some clever play from fullback Ben Smith.
STADIUM UNFIT FOR GAMES
AP, CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
The Canterbury Crusaders have been forced to move their Super 15 home matches from AMI Stadium following a deadly earthquake this week, but the Christchurch mayor still hopes the city and stadium will be ready to host Rugby World Cup matches in September.
The city of Nelson, at the north end of New Zealand’s South Island, was confirmed yesterday as host of at least the next two of eight Super 15 matches originally scheduled for Christchurch. SANZAR chief Greg Peters, who has held meetings with Crusaders officials this week, said the club doesn’t want to move their home fixtures too far away.
The Crusaders were expected to host the New South Wales Waratahs on March 4 at home, but will play in Nelson instead.
The Crusaders were due to play the Hurricanes today in Wellington, but the game was canceled and deemed a draw with the teams taking two points each.
Christchurch mayor Bob Parker, meanwhile, said that the city was desperate to host World Cup matches, telling Australian Associated Press: “I’m determined that we have the Rugby World Cup here.”
“My city needs events now to enjoy and bring us back together,” he said. “I would implore those who are involved at the highest level not to rush into any decision. I will fight for it and so will our people.”