Reds captain Scott Higginbotham was shown an early red card against his former club as the Rebels started a new era with a resounding 45-19 Super Rugby win and the Highlanders beat the Blues in Aaron Mauger’s first game in charge.
Australia number eight Higginbotham was dismissed after only 10 minutes at AAMI Park on Friday for a shoulder charge, making contact with Matt Philip’s head.
Tries from Duncan Paia’aua and Samu Kerevi put the Queensland side in front, despite being down to 13 with Lukhan Tui in the sin-bin, but it proved to be a miserable start to life under Brad Thorn.
Debutant Will Genia pulled the strings against his ex-employers and the new-look Rebels moved into a 26-14 lead at the break, Sefa Naivalu claiming a double either side of a Tom English score before Dane Haylett-Petty dotted down on his bow for the Melbourne franchise.
Haylett-Petty, who followed new head coach Dave Wessels from the defunct Western Force to Victoria, added a second try and Jack Debreczeni helped himself to a brace of his own as the Rebels got their season up and running in style after surviving the
Super Rugby cull – matching the tally of victories they achieved last season.
— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) February 23, 2018
The Highlanders came out on top in a Dunedin thriller, seeing off the Blues 41-34.
Bryn Gatland, son of Wales head coach Warren, scored 19 points – including one of four Blues tries – and Akira Ioane went over the whitewash twice to establish a 31-24 lead early in the second half.
The 2015 champions got Mauger off to a victorious start, though, Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden scoring two tries apiece and Siate Tokolahi also weighing in with a five-pointer in an enthralling clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium, with Lima Sopoaga scoring 13 points from the tee.
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