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Resilient Rebels repel lowly Highlanders

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The Melbourne Rebels registered a famous 22-28 victory over the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

The hard-fought victory was the Australian franchise’s first in five attempts in Otago, and only their third against the Highlanders in nine Super Rugby clashes, going back to 2011.

The surprise loss is the first back-to-back home defeat for the ‘Landers since 2017. Aaron Mauger’s side lost to the Sharks in round 2 of the tournament.

Andrew Kellaway grabbed a brace as the Rebels ended a long-standing hoodoo in Dunedin.

Matt Toomua added four conversions to his outstanding display at first receiver.

Defeat is the first for the Highlanders to Australian opposition since losing to the Force in 2014.

Two yellow cards for Scott Gregory and Jona Nareki, both on Melbourne skipper Dane Haylett-Petty late in the game, effectively killed any chance of some last-ditch heroics.

The win was only the second of the 2020 Super rugby season for the Rebels, while defeat leaves the Highlanders bottom of the New Zealand conference with a solitary win.

The Rebels raced into a 21-point lead scoring three tries inside the opening quarter of the game through Billy Meakes, Anaru Rangi and Kellaway.

Meakes combined with Toomua after a well-disguised fake driving maul by the forwards.

There was nothing fake about the second try.

This time the visitors collected the throw and drove their opponents back at a rate of knots from 10 metres out.

Things went from bad to worse for the New Zealanders when 14-nil became 19-nil.

Kellaway goes runaway as Highlanders are architects of their downfall

A wayward pass dropped by Josh Ioane but scooped up by Kelleway, who put on the afterburners and raced 75 metres to score against the run of play.

The flyer had a monumental match; he ran for 158 metres while making an offload, three line-breaks and beating four defenders.

Such low yields for offloads is not through lack of skill by the 24-year-old winger. It’s that he doesn’t need to make any; once he beats the first defender, he coasts clear.

The next best running metres by any player was 81, and only two players from either team ran for 50 or more run-metres. Sensational.

Super Rugby Video Highlights: Highlanders versus Melbourne Rebels, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

The Australians dominated both territory (65%) and possession (60%) in the first half but allowed the New Zealanders a glimmer of hope with two unanswered scores before the interval.

Josh McKay pulled a try back for the Kiwis before their influential captain James Lentjes left the field on a buggy with what looks a horrible leg injury.

This time Kellaway turned villain, losing possession after sweeping up a grubber inside his 22.

He lost the ball after a counter-ruck, which was not all his fault because he was left isolated.

The ‘Landers recycled quickly from one sideline to the other for McKay to put his side on the board.

Melbourne had a couple of good opportunities to extend their lead, but handling errors gave the home team a let-off.

Highlanders fight back after the break, ramping up the pressure and intensity

A troubling stat emerged before the break; Dave Wessels’ side had made 13 offloads to one as the Australians kept play alive with some superb handling.

However, a sublime free-flowing attack involving the tight-five combination of Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon and Jesse Parete, set-up Aaron Smith’s score on the stroke of halftime.

Mauger’s side dominated the early exchanges of the second stanza; however, their lineout was a shambles that allowed the opposition a lifeline in critical areas of the field while also stalling attacks.

The Highlanders lost a staggering five lineouts from 17, which is diabolical at this level.

Dixon and replacement hooker Liam Coltman could not find their jumpers. When they did, however, the ball was knocked-on.

Despite this calamity, the hosts kept coming.

They went close through Marino Mikaele Tu’u, but the number eight had his try chalked off for a forward pass by Aaron Smith after a TMO review.

Smith often plays his passes flat on the gain-line, but this time he misjudged his no-look inside pass.

All the momentum was with the Highlanders, but it was the Rebels who struck against the run of play.

Smith again was the culprit, his two mistakes costing a 14-point swing when Kellaway intercepted his long – telegraphed – floated pass.

Kellaway raced 65 metres untouched to increase his side’s advantage. Toomua, kicking like a metronome, made it 14-28 on 53 minutes.

Gregory dotted down in the corner after another sustained attack inside the 22.

The Highlanders went nine phases before Rob Thompson put Gregory away in the corner 11 minutes later.

Josh Iaone’s conversion attempt rebounded off the post.

Two dangerous tackles lead to yellow cards for the hosts, killing any chance of winning

Try scorer Gregory found himself in the sin-bin soon after the restart for a dangerous tackle on Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty.

Melbourne had a chance to kick the penalty; however, they chose to kick to the corner. They messed up the throw allowing the ‘Landers to clear their lines.

The Highlanders marched up the field and won a penalty after another Meakes offsides.

Referee Paul Williams had warned the Rebels for repeated infringements inside the “Red Zone” before Gregory’s try and had no option but to card Meakes.

Ioane kicked the penalty to make it a six-point ball-game with 11 minutes to play.

Nareki game ended a minute from time after his dangerous tackle on Dane Haylett-Petty. It was a carbon copy of Gregory’s tackle on the fullback.

Another disastrous lineout by Mauger’s men saw the Rebels hold on for a famous win in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Final Score: Highlanders 22 (14) Rebels 28 (21)

Scorers

Highlanders
Tries – McKay. A. Smith, Gregory
Pen – J. Ioane
Con – J. Ioane (2)
Drop –
Cards – Gregory (Yellow, 65′)

Rebels
Tries – Meakes, Rangi, Kellaway (2)
Pen –
Con – Toomua (4)
Drop –
Cards – Meakes (Yellow, 68′), Nareki (Yellow, 79′)

Match Officials
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: James Doleman
Assistant Ref 2: James Munro
TMO: Chris Hart

Teams

Highlanders

Head Coach: Aaron Mauger

15 Michael Collins, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Jesse Parete, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown

Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Scott Gregory.

Rebels

Head Coach: Dave Wessels

15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Tom English, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.

Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Cabous Eloff, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Frank Lomani, 22 Michael Wells, 23 Andrew Deegan.

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