Discipline proved the difference between the winners and losers on Friday night, the Rebels having nobody to blame but themselves for a 25-15 loss to Hurricanes at AAMI Park.
The Rebels were struggling to convert brave defeats into something more tangible, their tally of three wins not commensurate to the team’s improvement and expectations. The Hurricanes had the opposite scenario – breezing through the preliminary stages of Super Rugby, their momentum had been halted by a terrific Waratahs side in their previous match.
There were worrying signs for the home team in the warm-up, with star Jason Woodward noticeably sluggish. The Rebels needed a strong start to have a hope of wresting momentum in the match, something they had lacked in their previous matches. No momentum was forthcoming, however, as Luke Burgess conceded a penalty for offside and gave Beauden Barrett his first shot at goal for the night. Three minutes in, and the Hurricanes were 3-0 up, Barrett converting from long range.
The Rebels had a chance to equalise almost immediately when Ben Franks was caught in front of the kicker, but a simple shot went astray for Jason Woodward, the kick on a slight angle never looking likely to convert.
The forwards were holding their own against the visiting team, but the backs, in their haste, were conceding penalties far too often in the opening twenty minutes. Mitch Inman and Tamati Ellison were both pinged for ruck infringements whilst attempting to delay the clinical Hurricanes from breaking wide. Beauden Barrett converted both chances at the 11th and 18th minute, the visitors’ lead extending to nine as the first quarter of the game ended.
Woodward’s night recovered slightly in the next phase of the match. His kick returned in the 21st minute, after Jeremy Thrush was caught in the ruck, converting from short range to reduce the gap to six points, 9-3.
He was then instrumental in the first try of the match. Off a ruck from a kick return, Scott Higginbotham passed to Bryce Hegarty, who, with a beautiful flat pass, opened the line for Woodward to break. He ran through the remains of the Hurricanes line, and chipped the ball to clear the last man. It looked to have sat up for him to finish the job himself, but instead it found the arms of the supporting Hegarty, who touched down underneath the posts for the first try of the match. With the successful conversion, the Rebels led for the first time in the match, 10-9 after a half hour, and Jason Woodward seemingly had his groove back.
Beauden Barrett ensured the lead would be short-lived, pointing for the posts after the Rebels stopped a Hurricanes run at the line whilst straying offside at the ruck. His kick from short-range was successful, the Hurricanes leading 12-10 with 5 remaining in the first half.
The Rebels regained possession as the clock wound down, and when Conrad Smith was caught offside at the siren, they opted for the posts to attempt to regain the lead. Jason Woodward attempted the shot from 65m out, the option always looking like it was more at home up on the high veldt, falling well short. The Hurricanes took the 12-10 lead into half time, the Rebels just keeping pace.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, it was a game of two halves, and just keeping pace would not equip the hosts for the stark reality that was about to befall them.
Referee Matt O’Brien, in his second game at Super level, was clearly struggling to rein in the discipline from both sides. He found the ire of the home fans on more than one occasion, but his decisions, whilst questionable, were consistent. When the Rebels conceded six penalties in succession in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, this week, they had nobody to blame but themselves. It could be argued that they got off lightly, with the mercurial Barrett only opting for the posts four times, and only successful twice. The Hurricanes led 18-10 after 55 minutes.
Whist it had been Beauden Barrett who had systematically chipped away at the Rebels’ hopes of an upset, it would be a memorable combination between Barrett, Andre Taylor, Cory Jane and Conrad Smith that would extinguish any hopes the home team had. Taylor collected the ball off a kick return, out wide and deep within his own half. He then conjured a magical run on the wing, shimmering through remnants of the Rebels line to end in the Hurricanes’ attacking 22. From the ruck, the ball found Barrett, who chipped a perfectly weighted ball into the hands of Cory Jane on the opposite wing. Taking the tackle, Jane popped the ball to a running Conrad Smith for a spectacular try, one that even had members of the Rebel Army on their feet. Barrett converted, and the Hurricanes led 25-10 on the hour.
The Rebels would have a few more opportunities to score as the match concluded, but in truth, it always seemed like too much to ask. Jason Woodward had another shot at goal in the 63rd minute when James Broadhurst conceded a penalty at a Rebels lineout. Unfortunately, his kick had deserted him again and the scores remained the same.
A glimmer of hope for the Rebels came when Conrad Smith was sent to the sin bin with twelve minutes to go for repeated infringements. The Rebels took the penalty, and sent the ball wide, running through 5 phases against the undermanned Hurricanes before Cadeyrn Neville turned around in a tackle to pop the ball to Tamati Ellison, who put the ball down for the Rebels’ second try. Jason Woodward ended a forgettable night with a miss at the kick to keep the scores at 25-15, and that’s where they stayed at the siren.
The Game Changer
The Taylor-Barrett-Jane-Smith try ended all hopes the Rebels had of winning the game. The scoreline after the try wasn’t insurmountable, but the precision and skill with which the try was executed sucked the wind right out of the match. One for the highlight reels.
The G&GR MOTM
Beauden Barrett. No question about it. A spectacular outing for New Zealand’s form number 10. For the Rebels, Bryce Hegarty showed great promise, his composure in big games has increased one-hundred-fold in the past year.
The Rebels’ forward pack are amongst the most under-rated players in the competition. Yet again, they not only held their own against a highly-fancied opposition, but likely bettered them. There has to be some navy blue in the Wallabies pack this year.
Score & Scorers
[one_half last=”no”]MELBOURNE REBELS 15
Tries: Hegarty 27′, Ellison 71′
Conversions: Woodward 1/2
Penalties: Woodward 1/4 [/one_half]
[one_half last=”yes”]HURRICANES 25
Tries: Smith 56′
Conversions: Barrett 1/1
Penalties: Barrett 6/8 [/one_half]
Cards & Citings
Smith – Hurricanes (Repeated Infringements) 68′
In Melbourne, the Rebels are informally known as the Wanderers, and the Hurricanes have earned the nickname ‘Roar’, which I guess means ‘roar’ talent.
12,072 at AAMI Park.