The Lions entered tonight’s match after a shellacking in Christchurch, hoping to end their tour on a high.
The Rebels were looking to open their account at AAMI Park in 2015.
The Rebels dominated proceedings from the get-go, breaking the line and recycling quickly through excellent service from Nic Stirzaker. Well organized in attack and defence, they scored easily and forced many turnovers on the odd occasion the Lions managed to play with the ball in hand.
After a soft yellow card to the Lions’ Mostert for cynical play, the match looked like it was the Rebels’ to lose.
Two tries were scored in the first half; one to a bullocking Mitch Inman who cruised over, and the second to Jonah Placid. Placid’s name will be in the books, but the try was arguably Lopeti Timani’s, after the lock drove the ball forward numerous times in the lead up, then threw an outrageous dummy before a cut-out pass to the flying Placid.
There’s an atavistic pleasure in watching Timani play. Like a young Jerry Collins, he’s the type of bloke you hope is on your team. Opposition forwards were not just tackled, they were brutalised, heads snapped back and sweat bursting in the air like a heavyweight right hook connecting. Take note Sean Maloney, the Timani highlight reel will be a ripper in the coming years.
Pat Leafa – part of dominant start of the Rebels .
The Rebels ended the half up 13-3 and all signs pointed to a bonus point victory. The match was theirs to lose. Could they do it? Never a team to disappoint the vagaries of form and expectation, they gave it a red hot go and ended up achieving just that.
The second half was scrappier, however the Lions managed to get their hands on the pill for longer periods and started making in-roads into the Rebels. Lionel Mapoe was handy, and Elton Jantjies started using his deft pass and step to open space outside him. Marnitz Boshoff scored to bring the Lions within three points.
Marnitz Boshoff – finished Rebels off with outstanding try .
The Rebels, despite their scoreboard advantage, seemed desperate to keep the game close. Dropped ball, missed tackles and errors plagued them, before a late and vaguely eye-catching tackle from replacement lock Steve Cummins earned him a rest in the bin. The only explanation was that it was an evener for the ref’s soft yellow in the 3rd minute.
A grandstand finish was on the cards after Harris missed a kickable penalty in the 74th minute, before soft Rebels tackling again saw the Lions make serious metres before Mapoe crossed for the final try.
Final score 16-20.
The Lions will be delighted with the win. They fought back from a tough corner and despite the one-eyed report, played themselves into a position to win. The Rebels on the other hand will be kicking themselves. They scraped away from a depleted Western Force last week, after allowing their first half dominance to be dried up.
Questions about their mental edge and complacency are justified, particularly when in a winning position.
Timani’s substitution left the Rebels without their go-forward and edge in defence.
A tough one to award, given the variance in performance from both sides. Jantjies and Mapoe were solid for the Lions, as were Jones, Leafa and Timani for the Rebels. I’ll give it to Higginbotham, who was effective all game and kept his discipline.
Timani may be short for a lock, but he is one of the more damaging forwards running around in Australia. Hopefully he can stay injury free. Higginbotham was strong, as was Stirzaker and McMahon.
Tries – M.Inman, J.Placid
Pen – M.Harris 2
Cards -S. Cummins (59th min yellow)
Tries – M.Boshoff, L.Mapoe
Pen – E.Jantjies 2
Con – E.Jantjies 2
Cards – F.Mostert (3rd min yellow)