GARETH DUNCAN reports on the Rebels’ 30-29 win over the Force in Melbourne.
The Rebels led 24-12 at half-time, but a strong second-half performance from the Force saw the visitors gain a 29-27 advantage late in the final quarter. The Perth team held the ascendancy and built good momentum, before a Mark Gerrard penalty edged the Rebels ahead. While possession jumped hands several times in the dying moments, the hosts had the composure to close off the match and achieved their first win of the season.
The Rebels suffered some injury blows in the pre-match warm-up, with inside centre James O’Connor and fullback Richard Kingi pulling out with hamstring injuries. However, flyhalf Danny Cipriani, who was struggling with flu last week, was highly influential in the team’s impressive start to the match.
The Melbourne side was very clinical on attack as Cipriani’s playmaking skills created early scores. This saw them surge into a 14-0 lead, with centres Lachlan Mitchell and Lloyd Johansson dotting down in the opening 15 minutes after some smart backline interplay. A counter attack, which was inspired by Gerrard from inside the Rebels 22, put Cirpiani through for a clear run to the whitewash.
The English flyhalf limped off with a hamstring injury moments later, a loss that clearly made a negative impact as the Force hit back with two tries via flanker David Pocock and inside centre Winston Stanley to reduce the deficit to 12 points at the break.
The Force maintained their momentum in the second half, scoring 10 points in eight minutes as wing Alfie Mafie beat three defenders to dive over while fullback David Harvey added a conversion and penalty. Outside centre Nick Cummins then powered through from close range to grab a telling try, one that gave the visitors the lead for the first time.
The Rebels lacked the fluency they had on attack in the first half, but capitalised on the Force’s ill-discipline. Pocock’s men conceded several penalties at the death, and Gerrard slotted one of them from a difficult angle as the Rebels sneaked in for the win.