Melbourne Rebels beat Highlanders 31-30 in a seesawing Super Rugby Pacific contest at AAMI Park, Melbourne.
The Melbourne Rebels scored two late tries to edge the Highlanders by a point in an enthralling Trans-Tasman clash.
This slender five-tries-to- four victory ends the Rebels’ dismal losing run against New Zealand opposition.
The Victorians had won only once in their previous 13 Super Rugby matches versus Kiwi opposition.
The win is, however, bittersweet for the Western Force, who was in with an outside chance of making the last eight if things went their way.
The Force needed the Rebels to beat the Landers, but at the same time, stop the Kiwis from claiming a losing bonus point.
If Kevin Foote’s men could win by eight or more points, the Western Australian side would sneak into the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs by a point.
It was not to be, however. The Force decided to end the match and take the win rather than lose chasing a converted try for their fellow Aussies.
Both teams scored two tries on either side of the opposition scoring twice in a seesawing Super Rugby game down under
The Highlanders shot into a 12-0 lead before the Rebels pulled two goals back to make it 14-18 at halftime.
The second stanza went much the same way when the hosts scored twice to go 26-18 in front.
The South Islanders, however, struck twice soon after to take a 30-26 lead.
But as time ran down, the Rebels managed a late score before holding on for a much-needed Trans-Tasman win.
Jordan Uelese, Glen Vaihu, Nic Jooste, Luke Ripley, and Young Tonumaipea all scored for the home team.
Matt To’omua added three important conversions, although he did hit the posts twice.
Rory van Vugt, Josh Dickson, Folau Fakatava, and Fetuli Paea crossed for the Kiwis.
Marty Banks added two penalties and one conversion, but his missed conversions did not, in the end, cost Tony Brown and his squad a quarter-final clash with the Blues.
Vilimoni Koroi also added a conversion, but it was not to be for the visitors.
The Melbourne Rebels and the Highlanders both scored two tries apiece in a half dominated by the New Zealanders
Brown’s team enjoyed 60% possession and territory, but the Kiwis’ scrum was wobbly, losing three of five in the opening stanza.
Melbourne leaked penalties, which kept the hosts camped inside their own half.
Both sides conceded too many turnovers, especially in good attacking areas, killing scoring opportunities.
The Highlanders took a 12-point lead after 20 minutes through tries from Van Vugt and Dickson.
But the Rebels struck twice in nine minutes, through Uelese and Vaihu, to make it a one-point ball game.
A late To’omua penalty gave the Otago franchise a four-point lead at halftime.
Van Vugt opened the scoring in the third minute with an acrobatic finish, which was awarded after a TMO review for a knee in touch.
To’omua converted the touchline kick.
Nic Jooste had a try chalked off by the TMO for a knock-on by James Tuttle in the build-up.
The Highlanders increased their advantage at the end of the first quarter after some pressure inside the opposition’s 22.
Banks’ crossfield kick was caught by Fetuli Paea. The ball got played short to the rampaging Dickson, who broke Michael Wells’ weak tackle to score. Banks hit the post.
Four minutes later, the Rebels set up an attacking lineout inside the Landers’ 22.
The hosts finally got their rolling maul going, and the visitors had no answer to the powerful set-piece.
Uelese crashed over for his eighth Super Rugby try after the maul splintered before the line.
Banks knocked over a penalty before the half-hour, but Foote’s side struck before the break.
The try came against the run of play but at least it came.
Vaihu intercepted Aaron Smith’s loose pass and the winger raced half the length of the field to score under the posts. To’omua added the extras to make it 14-15.
Brad Wilkin, not for the first time, conceded a needless penalty to allow Banks three cheap points before the interval.
The Rebels came out firing, scoring twice in five minutes in the third quarter to go 26-18 ahead
Foote’s side cut out the penalties and handling mistakes as they increased territory and possession.
This gave the host a good platform to ruffle the off-colour Otago men.
Jooste finally got his score after a sublime individual run following a slick backline attack.
The fullback collected the ball in the outside channel and beat four defenders before reaching out to score. To’omua converted.
Some good work by Vaihu led to the Rebels’ next score. The winger caught his own chip-kick to set up an attack inside the opposition’s 22.
To’omua gathered a bouncing ball and sent a long pass to Ripley, who fumbled but regathered to score before the ball hit the ground.
Folau Fakatava’s late cameo all put paid to the Western Force hopes of playoff footy
Melbourne’s – and the Western Force’s – joy was, however, short-lived.
Fakatava came off the bench to score and set up a try which ended Force’s hopes of a quarter-final in Auckland.
The Highlanders, inspired by the halfback, struck twice in five minutes after the hour mark to take a 30-26 lead going into the final period.
Fakatava scored to close the gap on the home team after some good work by Marino Mikaele-Tu’u set up the scrumhalf.
Some poor handling by the hosts saw the Highlanders launch a counter-attack through Fakatava’s linebreak.
The halfback raced into the Rebels’ half before finding the support. The ball was recycled quickly to the right where Paea strolled in untouched to give the visitors the lead. Koroi converted.
With less than six minutes remaining, the Victorians struck after some smart thinking by Joe Powell.
Andrew Kellaway’s strong run put the Rebels on the front foot. Powell, seeing the space behind the three-quarters, grubbered to the chasing Tonumaipea.
Tonumaipea beat Liam Coombes-Fabling to the bouncing ball to give the hosts a late one-point lead.
To’omua could not convert. It was helter-skelter at the death as both teams turned over possession.
A converted Rebels’ try would send the Western force through to the playoffs, and the Highlanders crashing out.
Foote’s men almost pulled off the improbable, but for some superb last-ditch cover-defending by the New Zealanders.
In the end, the Rebels won a late penalty, but they decided to hang on for the win rather than go for seven.
Final Score: Rebels 31 (14) Highlanders 30 (18)
Tries – Uelese, Vaihu, Jooste, Ripley, Tonumaipea
Con – To’omua (3)
Tries – Van Vugt, Dickson, Fakatava, Paea
Pen – Banks (2)
Con – Banks, Koroi
Referee: Jordan way
Assistant Ref 1: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 2: Matt Kellahan
TMO: Oli Kellett
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Nick Jooste, 14 Lukas Ripley, 13 Andrew Kellaway, 12 Matt To’omua, 11 Glen Vaihu, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Rob Leota, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Michael Wells (captain), 5 Josh Canham, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Pone Fa’amausili, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Cabous Eloff, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Daniel Maiava, 23 Young Tonumaipea.
Highlanders: 15 Liam Coombes-Fabling, 14 Fetuli Paea, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Rory van Vugt, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 James Lentjes (co-captain), 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Sam Caird, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Vilimoni Koroi, 23 Denny Solomona.