Melbourne Rebels

Review: Melbourne v. Auckland – And I guess that’s why they call them the Blues…

Review: Melbourne v. Auckland – And I guess that’s why they call them the Blues…

The Melbourne Rebels exorcised their second-half demons to grind out the most significant win of their short history, confirming the Blues as also-rans for 2012 with a 34-23 win at AAMI Park on Thursday.

JOC: the consumate professional

This was a crucial game for both sides, wallowing in the bottom of the table after failing to live up to the hype that had been bestowed on them earlier in the year. The Rebels needed to play a consistent 80 minutes, having resembled witches’ hats in recent second halves, especially in their preceding match against the Highlanders. For the Blues, they needed their forward pack to fire in this match, as an underperforming and ill-disciplined back line needed all the possession they could get to convert against the Rebels.

It was the home side to register first in the second minute, Rudi Wulf penalised for not releasing the ball in a Mark Gerrard tackle . Delve pointed to the sticks and O’Connor converted to make it 3-0. The Blues answered the call, earning a scrum penalty after dominating with a first hit, forcing Rodney Blake to lose his bind. Anscombe lined up the kick and evened the scores after seven minutes.

The home crowd were on the edge of their seats as the Blues pushed, the forward pack putting intense pressure on the Rebel defence inside their attacking 22. The Aucklanders pushed the ball wide to attack down the Punt Road side of the ground, targeting a weakness in the Melburnians. It was Kurtley Beale, however, who saved the day this time for the home team, timing a run perfectly to claim the intercept, and getting a fortunate deflection off his arm to run on and place a casual 80m try inside 15 minutes. His wry smile said it all for the Rebels – they finally had the spark they needed to give games a shake. James O’Connor struck the woodwork with his conversion attempt, making the scores 8-3.

O’Connor extended the lead minutes later, as another painfully slow Bryce Lawrence scrum set resulted in a penalty to the Rebels. James’ kick was true and the score was 11-3 after 20 minutes.

Around this time in the half, the Blues started to press, and Tony Woodcock became the key for the visitors. As the scrum engagement became worse and worse, Woodcock was able to force penalties out of the Rebel front row. The first, after a 25th minute scrum collapse, was converted by Anscombe to make the score 11-6.

The second gave the Blues a shot at the line, putting them deep inside their attacking 22. As the Rebels defence became even more desperate, Michael Lipman was called offside, giving the Blues another easy shot at goal. Anscombe didn’t miss, and the score became 11-9, where it remained until oranges.

It was looking good for the Rebels, but half time scores often have for the Victorians. Their test would come in the second half, in particular, how they responded in the first 15 minutes. When the Rebels conceded in the 42nd minute, Rudi Wulf touching down off a wide run by Rene Ranger, it was looking like history repeating for the home side. Anscombe converted and made the score 16-11 in favour of the visitors.

The Blues were strong and composed in their forward attack, and earned another penalty in the 52nd, when they trapped Nick Phipps on the other side of the ruck. Anscombe went for the kick but missed the lot.

Here the game turned again, with James O’Connor the livewire for the hosts. James weaved through a few Blues defender, and attempted an offload to Jarrod Saffy, who was held back without it, earning the Rebels a penalty. O’Connor added to his tally and reduced the gap to two, the score 16-14 after 58.

All of a sudden, it was all Melbourne. The Rebels back line showed they were capable of living up to the hype bestowed on them, Beale, O’Connor and Gerrard teaming up to scramble the Rebels into deep attack. They were putting excellent pressure on the Blues, and the visitors eventually fell prey to it, conceding a penalty right in front of goal. James O’Connor was given the ball, and in return gave the Rebels back the lead, converting for a 17-16 lead.

The Blues tried to retake control of the game through their forward pack, Ma’a Nonu claiming the restart and crashing into the Rebel defence. His colleagues were too slow to get to him, however, and he was penalised for holding on to the ball. The next play saw the ball fall into the hands of the hard-working Ged Robinson, who smashed into the Blues defence and provided a clever offload to James O’Connor, who touched down near the uprights. Converting his own try, the Rebels had a 24-16 lead, and the wind in their sails.

They were almost over again a few minutes later, Henderson pushing Delve over the line in a penalty advantage and Bryce Lawrence going to the TMO. After a series of replays, the result was inconclusive and Delve was denied, giving James O’Connor the kick straight in front. A successful penalty made the scores 27-16, and the crowd went wild. Their Rebels, surely, were home.

The Aucklanders had one more roll of the dice, pressing the Rebels at the restart and regaining the ball. The Blues ran at the Rebels, but the side that was defending was not the one that had tried and failed at second halves all of this year. The Rebels were incredible in defence, surviving a penalty advantage and eventually forcing a knock-on to earn a scrum on the 5m line.

Unfortunately for the home team, they were dominated in the scrum, and Phipps found it hard to release the ball. When it eventually got out, James O’Connor received it too late, and his kick was charged down for a 5m scrum to the Blues. Again the Rebels struggled, penalised for a collapse almost straight away. The Blues packed down again, this time it went out to Lowrey who touched down for the visitors. A conversion later and it was back to 27-23. The Melbourne faithful had the switch to ‘heartbreak mode’ at the ready.

The restart put the Blues deep into attack again, and it was an amazing show of defence and pressure from the Rebels to keep them out. Even when the Aucklanders attacked the Victorians’ traditional weak spot, the wings, they were schooled by a home team desperate for the points. When the Rebels won a scrum for a knock-on, they had the match wrapped up, and looked more than happy to defend for the final minute.

This was not to be, however, the Rebels, sniffing the chance for a final salute, handing the ball to Hugh Pyle, who imposed himself on the ruck and charged past the advantage line. A sneaky pick-and-go from Gareth Delve saw the evergreen Welshman cross the line, sending AAMI Park into raptures. O’Connor converted and the score read 34-23 at the 80.

Whether this was a watershed result for the Rebels remains to be seen. What it did mark, however, was the first time the Rebels wrested back momentum in the second half when the game was there to be won. Even when the Blues gained the lead, the confidence and belief was still there for the Victorians, so they kept plugging away, and got the result in the end.

They travel to Canberra and Sydney in coming weeks, and will need to take that lesson into their road trip, especially against the Waratahs, who have dominated the Rebels early in all three of their matches.

For the Blues, they head home, tail between legs, wondering where it all went wrong this year. Their punishment? The Sharks.

Tries: Beale, O’Connor, Delve
Penalties: O’Connor 5
Conversions: O’Connor 2

Tries: Wulf, Lowrey
Penalties: Anscombe 3
Conversions: Anscombe 2

Half time: MEL 11-9 BLU

Crowd: 15,246

What did you make of the Rebels’ yell on Thursday? Did they show enough to take on the Brumbies next week? Are the Blues well and truly cooked?

Melbourne Rebels

Stuart Fazakerley is an enigmatic prop/inside centre for the Melbourne Rebels and Wallabies, who holds records for the most tries scored inside both a Super Rugby and Rugby Championship season. Outside of Rugby Challenge on Xbox, Stuart is a general battler who has been spreading the word of the game they play in heaven from all the benches he warms.

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