Despite the fact that the Melbourne Rebels have an 11-3 winning record against the Western Force, the games are generally close and hard fought with most decided by less than seven points. The teams last met in Round One this season, the Rebels winning in Perth in a typically close fashion by 25-19.
The first scrum of the match is set after just one minute of play with the feed going to the Rebels. From side on, the scrum looks as flat as a billiard table… beautiful. The scrums would remain fairly even all night with neither side able to dominate.
At around the eleven minute mark, Mike Harris made a great run, stepping past two defenders before passing outside to Reece Hodge. Hodge showed excellent pace to score under the posts before converting his own try. Despite missing four games through injury, and with three still to play, Hodge’s eighth try saw him surpass Cooper Vuna’s record for most tries in a season by a Rebels player.
Unfortunately for Mike Harris, he injured his left hamstring during that play and had to be replaced by Jonah Placid. Placid went to fullback with Jack Debreczeni shifting back to his regular position at fly half. Harris, just recalled to the Wallabies squad, must now be in serious doubt for the June test series.
Peter Grant kicked a penalty goal for the Force. From the resultant kick off the Force powered a driving maul twenty metres down field to earn a penalty advantage. Peter Grant perfectly executed a kick across to Luke Morahan on the wing. Morahan grubber kicked through and regathered to score in the left corner. A brilliant piece of attacking play from the Force. Grant missed the conversion but the Force were ahead 8-7.
Reece Hodge soon put the Rebels back in front with another penalty goal. Peter Grant missed an opportunity to retake the lead with another penalty attempt before consecutive misses from Hodge.
The first half was played at a high tempo and with plenty of intent from both teams but skill errors cruelled numerous attacking opportunities. The Melbourne Rebels headed into the sheds leading 10-8.
The playing surface was noticeably better under the scrums this match. The ground was still being carved up in some areas but to nowhere near the extent seen in previous games this season at AAMI Park. A marked improvement.
The Melbourne Rebels came out firing after the break, earning a penalty advantage after just one minute of play. They shifted the ball quickly from left to right, Mitch Inman stepped past Dane Haylett-Petty and passed to Sefania Naivalu who touched down in the right corner. Hodge missed the conversion attempt from near the side line.
The Force earned a line out from a penalty and set an attacking maul. The Rebels did well to stop the maul’s progress but, local Perth product, Harry Scoble part crawled, part powered his way over the line from five metres out for his second career try.
The Rebels second try of the half started with a nice break from Sefa Naivalu beating two defenders mid field. The Rebels made good metres with every phase till eventually the forwards secured the ball near the try line. Lopeti Timani gathered the ball from the side of a ruck with a twisting dive over the line for five points. Debreczeni took over the kicking duties from Hodge but was just as unsuccessful, his attempt hitting the post.
Just a few minutes later, some more attacking play saw the Rebels earn a scrum feed in excellent field position. Nic Stirzaker ran the ball from the back of the scrum and hit a charging Naivalu, running an excellent line on Stirzaker’s outside shoulder. “Super Sefa” was over for his second try of the night, right by the upright. This time Debreczeni made no mistake with the conversion, taken almost directly in front.
With consecutive tries and the Melbourne crowd in full voice it looked like the flood gates might have opened and the Rebels powered away with the result. However, the Force’s never-say-die attitude was again soon on display.
After some strong attacking play by the Force, The Rebels seemed to be off the hook when they won a defensive line out a few metres from their own try line. A line out error from Luke Jones though handed possession back to the Force. Following a series of pick and go attempts from the forwards close to the line, replacement scrum half, Ryan Louwrens, spun the ball to Luke Morahan who scored his second try of the night.
In a helter-skelter last five minutes, with only five points the difference, both teams had opportunities to score but wasted them with handling errors.
Final score Melbourne Rebels 27, Western Force 22.
Neither team could be faulted for their endeavour but both teams often let themselves down with poor execution and skills. The Rebels will be happy with the win but must be disappointed that they wasted so many opportunities. They held 60% possession, 65% field position and, had 775 run metres against 344 yet were unable to convert that statistical advantage into points. Handling errors at some crucial times cost the Rebels, as did some poor kicking, both from hand and from the tee.
The Force defended well and were dogged for just about the full eighty minutes. They may well have pinched the game if Dane Haylett-Petty had completed his break near the end.
The Game Changer
Consecutive tries to the Rebels in the 59th and 66th minutes gave them just enough of a buffer to get them home.
The G&GR MOTM
With 17 runs for 82 metres, three tackle busts and a line break, Lopeti Timani is our MOTM. He worked tirelessly for the full eighty minutes in attack and defence, consistently getting the Rebels front foot ball.
Eight players from this match have been selected in the Wallaby squad for the June series against England. Among them, Toby Smith and Ben McCalman both had very solid games. Smith played out the full game at tighthead Prop, had thirteen runs for 53 run metres, six tackles and two offloads. The ever-reliable McCalman made eighteen tackles, missed none and had eight runs. Unfortunate news for Mike Harris, injuring his hamstring early in the game.
Crowd: a noisy 8,800+
Score & Scorers
Tries: R. Hodge (12′), S. Naivalu (42′), L. Timani (59′), S. Naivalu (66′)
Conversions: R. Hodge 1, J. Debreczeni 1
Penalties: R. Hodge 1
Tries: L. Morahan (16′), H. Scoble (47′), L. Morahan (72′)
Conversions: P. Grant 2
Penalties: P. Grant 1
Cards & citings