The Melbourne Rebels have brought the Western Force’s five-game winning run to an end, with a hard-fought 22-16 win at AAMI Park on Good Friday.
The Rebels had enough reason to fight for a win, returning home after two close losses in succession, their good form frustratingly left unrewarded. The Force, however, came to Melbourne on the back of a five-match winning streak, the rejuvenated franchise sitting in fourth overall and a serious consideration for finals.
The Rebels dominated the first forty minutes, leading every statistic at half time – except the scoreboard. The first half was tight, gripping rugby, so much so that only four scores would come out of it. The Force opened the scoring after five minutes, when Scott Higginbotham was caught offside. Sias Ebersohn pointed for the posts and converted, giving the Force a 3-0 lead.
The Rebels would soon hit back, getting a penalty against the run of play when Pat Dellit was pinged for obstructing the tackler. Jason Woodward stepped up and tied the scores, 3-3 after 13.
Perhaps sensing the unforgiving nature of the game, Ebersohn lined up for a drop goal when the Force regained possession. Unfortunately for him, and to the delight of the crowd, the bounce didn’t fall his way – he caught the wayward ball with the outside of his boot, sending it flying far from its intended target.
It wouldn’t be long before he had an opportunity to atone, Colby Fainga’a caught using his hands in a ruck minutes later. Ebersohn made no mistake with the stationary ball, giving the Force back the lead, 6-3 after 20.
Jason Woodward would have a chance to give the Rebels the lead going in to half time, with two successive penalties against the Force’s Kieran Longbottom, pinged for obstruction and not clearing the ruck. His first kick was successful, taking the score to 6-6 after 27. His second kick, not so much, sailing comfortably to the right of the posts. Despite the hosts’ best efforts, that is where the score would remain at the half.
The teams would continue to trade penalties for the first twenty minutes of the second half, the Rebels converting one after 45 minutes to take a 9-6 lead before the Force took the option successfully after 51 minutes to tie it back up at 9-9. Jason Woodward gave the Rebels back the lead five minutes later, converting a fourth penalty to make the scores 12-9 after 56.
The Rebels knew that kicking would not be enough to win them this game, and through a forward pack led by workhorses Shota Horie and Luke Jones, started to push the Force line. Woodward and Horie created fast breaks that go the Rebels inside their attacking 5m, but it would be Scott Higginbotham who delivered, piling through the last line of defence off the back of a scrum to reach over the goal line and score. Woodward converted from close range, and the Rebels jumped out to a 19-9 lead on the hour.
The forward pressure from the Rebels was telling on the Force, with Jason Woodward given another two chances to creep the Rebels further ahead, catching Brynard Stander and Matt Hodgson off-guard at the breakdown. Woodward skied the first one but nailed the second, extending the Rebels’ lead to 22-9 with minutes remaining.
Had the night ended there, it would have been perfect for the Rebels, but that’s never the case when the Honey Badger is on the field. Nick Cummins had struggled to make an impact all night, the delivery out wide he had been eating up over the past few rounds not forthcoming at AAMI Park. Proving the old adage that you can’t keep a good species of mustelid native to Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent down, Cummins led a run down the left wing of AAMI Park, and after receiving a pass from Kyle Godwin, broke through the Rebels line after the siren and put the ball down underneath the posts. Zack Holmes’ conversion ensured that the Force would leave with a bonus point, ensuring they remained in fourth position on the overall ladder.
The Game Changer
Luke Burgess again had a transformative effect on the Rebels’ attack when he entered the field of play. His combination with the forward pack, Higginbotham in particular, was crucial in engineering the attacking shift that got the hosts the try they needed.
The G&GR MOTM
Luke Jones had a terrific impact on the game from the second row, but this week’s star was Shota Horie. He made 11 runs for 46 metres from hooker, including the play that saw the Rebels with a scrum that led to the try. A hard worker who delivered just when he was needed.
Luke Jones was spectacular against the Force. A game high 16 runs for 86 metres cemented his position as the Rebels’, and one of Australia’s, most agile and promising second rowers.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Higginbotham 61′
Conversions: Woodward 1/1
Penalties: Woodward 5/7
Tries: Cummins 80′
Conversions: Holmes 1/1
Penalties: Ebersohn 3/3
Drop Goals: Ebersohn 0/1
Cards & Citings
Ellison – Rebels (Repeated Infringements) 80′