In a tight and at times scrappy contest, the Rebels outlasted the Force at NIB stadium this afternoon.
The Rebels rocketed out of the gate and score a couple of early tries and good ones they were too. The big boys punched it up in the middle of the paddock, leading to the first try from Cadeyrn Neville when they were getting consistently over the gain line. After that, the sublime skills of Kurtley Beale got the ball wide at pace and caught a slow moving Force defence out on at least two occasions. At this stage it looked like one way traffic and it took the Force a good while to get their hands on the pill in any meaningful sense and in decent field position.
Beale appeared to have the ball on a string in the first half and was a constant threat. The passing was fluid and the forwards did their part by securing quick ball at the breakdown to mount wave after wave on attack. Fortunately for the Force, they were able to steady the ship to a degree and run up some points, because they looked seriously under siege for almost all of the first 40 minutes. Some moments of individual brilliance kept them in the game, especially in the form of line breaks from Tupou, Seymour and Nalaga. Had they been able to move the ball in a sharper manner there may have been further opportunities as well. With that said, the Rebels looked capable of scoring with every possession for long periods of the game, especially in the first half.
Whatever Phil Blake said to the Force players at half time seemed to work for a time, as they not only kept the Rebels attack relatively quiet, they were able to score themselves. Once again, however, the third Force try came from a movement that fell apart in an almost comical fashion until Mafi took matters into his own hands and ran a great line against the grain and scored near the posts. It was typical of the one-out stuff in attack that the Force have relied upon for much of the season. The passing is going to have to get better than this next year if they are to be any hope of making it out of the cellar. The other aspect that is frustrating to watch is the amount of time that the ball is getting of ball being thrown to a stationary tight forward wide of the ruck. This, in almost every case, is suffocating the potential attack before it even gets started. By comparison, the Rebels seem to have a much better handle on getting their big guys running through these midfield channels and getting the defence backpedalling — something that they were able to do on numerous occasions today.
The breakdown was an interesting battle and one where I thought the Rebels did enough to at least break even, thus providing their backline with enough quick ball to ask questions of the Force defence. The tight stuff I would give to the Force on points, though apart from a few scrums it wasn’t what you would call dominance. The Rebels pack did enough at the right times to keep their time in front for most of the game and especially when it counted at the end.
For the Force it was the same old song of not being able to exert enough pressure for long enough to convert possession into points (three tries notwithstanding). The defence from the Rebels was breached enough that a team with slicker hands probably woud have scored more, but the Force just weren’t able to string enough good passes together to get them over the line. They should study one move from the second half, however. They won the ball from a midfield turnover and ran a simple catch and pass movement, getting the ball to Nalaga, who duly broke the line and got them going. Why we don’t see more of this fundamental stuff is a mystery to me, because it flat out worked.
Rebels 32 (Neville 2, Delve, Vuna tries; Beale 3 convs; Beale 2 pens) beat Force 31 (Nalaga, McCalman, Mafi tries; Harvey, Seymour convs; Harvey, Sheehan, Seymour 2 pens)
Ref: Marius Jonker
Salesi Ma’afu looked to be in a world of trouble at half time after a collapsed scrum. He got up, however and ran out most of the rest of the game. Kurtley Beale also looked in strife with a hand injury after another electric line break in the second half. He finished the game in the end and continued to be influential.
Nearing the last ten minutes of the game, Matt Hodgson gave away a penalty and got carded for sticking his foot out as Nick Phipps was trying to clear the ball from the back of a ruck. It turned the game back the Rebels way, after they had been under the pump for a period of time. It also allowed the Rebels scrum to gain the ascendency while they were a man up, which won them at least one other penalty. They got in front right near the end and that’s all she wrote.
Kurtley Beale, though he had some competition from the Rebels locking pair. He was masterful in attack, with some terrific flat passing that led to a couple of tries, took the line on and kicked when appropriate. He really has matured considerably in the last couple of seasons, to the point where I could definitely see him playing 10 for the Wallabies if required. This would leave the problem of who would play fullback, but that’s a question for another day. I’m a big fan.
The Talking Point
In contrast to the game involving the Stormers a few weeks ago, it was the weather and this time for a positive reason. It was an absolutely glorious day for rugby today. At the risk of boring our readers to death with an oft-repeated point, but gee isn’t it great to have afternoon games in Super Rugby. I understand the reasons why we don’t, but it doesn’t stop me from wishing we had more. The footy sometimes even lived up to the conditions as well.