The Melbourne Rebels opened this year’s Super 15 season in style with an entertaining 30-23 win over the Perth-based Western Force in Melbourne yesterday.
The Rebels recovered from a slow start, coming from 11-0 down midway through the first half to overhaul the visitors, who have never won their opening Super rugby match since entering the competition in 2006.
Both teams scored three tries apiece, but the Force were let down by a lack of discipline at key moments, with fullback James O’Connor booting three penalties to give the Rebels some crucial breathing space.
The Western Force began the match brilliantly and stunned the Rebels with the intensity of their play in the opening exchanges.
The visitors dominated both possession and territory, and were rewarded with an early penalty to impressive inside center Kyle Godwin.
The Rebels then lost star recruit Scott Higginbotham to a yellow card in the 20th minute and the Force took full advantage of the former Queensland flanker’s absence with a second Godwin penalty and a try in the corner to winger Alfie Mafi.
When Higginbotham returned to the field the Rebels hit straight back, with hooker Ged Robinson crashing over after a Melbourne lineout close to the Force try line. O’Connor kicked the conversion to make it 11-7 to the Force 10 minutes from halftime, then booted a penalty to send the home side into the break 11-10 down.
The Force opened the second half much like they started the first and had a chance to go further ahead when they were awarded a penalty right in front.
However, they decided to go for a try instead, only to concede possession and allow the Rebels to score at the other end, with towering lock Hugh Pyle crossing after a delightful inside flick pass from winger Richard Kingi.
O’Connnor’s conversion made it 17-11, but that was reduced to 17-16 moments later when Mafi scored his second in the corner.
An O’Connor penalty took the Rebels out to a 20-16 lead before referee Angus Gardner made two crucial calls, yellow-carding Force flanker Chris Alcock and then halfback Alby Mathewson.
The Force were restored to 14 men when former Wallaby Richard Brown came on for Alcock and closed the gap immediately after, Brown scoring beside the posts and Godwin converting to make it 27-23.
However, O’Connor’s third penalty five minutes from time made the game safe.