The Western Force staged a powerful fight-back in the final 10 minutes but were unable to avoid a 7-10 defeat by the Melbourne Rebels in an extremely tight Super Rugby AU clash in front of a sell-out Western Force crowd at HBF Park.
The Melbourne Rebels dominated the opening 10 minutes of the clash, enjoying plenty of possession and using the width of the field to launch a series of attacks into the Force half. The Force defence held firm, however, as they stood up to the visitors’ relentless assault.
With the Force beginning to get more possession, veteran fullback Rob Kearney secured a valuable 50/22 for the hosts with a pin-point touch finder. The Force were able to maintain control of the ball through several phases, allowing them to build pressure and eventually secure a penalty within striking range. Unfortunately, flyhalf Jake McIntyre pushed his kick wide of the uprights and the contest remained scoreless after 20 minutes.
The game was being played at a frantic pace with the action moving from one side of the field to the other. The Rebels appeared to have broken the deadlock in the 25th minute when hooker James Hanson crossed the Force try line but knocked the ball on as he went over. The Rebels retained possession from the restart and took the ball through several phases to create the game’s opening try through wing Lachlan Anderson. Flyhalf Matt To’omua missed the conversion and the Rebels led by five points.
The game continued to be played at pace with both sides opting to kick for touch from penalties in search of scoring chances and the Force managing to get behind the Rebels’ wide field defence several times.
The Force finished the half strongly, first breaking away down the left of the pitch and taking the ball through the hands only to be denied by a desperate Rebels defence and then coming close to opening their account with a couple of strong driving mauls from lineouts inside the Rebels 22. However, the visitors stood firm to hold a five-point advantage going into the break.
The ‘arm-wrestle’ continued into the second half with both teams continuing to opt for touch from penalties during the early exchanges. With 52 minutes played, the Rebels changed tack, opting for a shot at goal but To’omua’s kick hit the upright, keeping their lead at five points.
The Sea of Blue erupted as Sitaleki Timani, who signed with the club earlier this week, entered the match for his first game back in Force colours.
Dominating territory and possession, the Rebels’ pressure finally took its toll in the 65th minute as Marika Koroibete split the Force defence from a set play on halfway to send the ball wide for scrumhalf Joe Powell to sprint into the corner. To’omua was unsuccessful with the conversion to see the Rebels lead by 10 points to nil.
Two minutes later, Force replacement flank Tomás Lezana got across the Rebels line but was held up. The Force, with momentum in their favour, maintained their composure to register their first points of the contest through a well-created try by reserve fullback Jack McGregor. Replacement scrumhalf Ian Prior added the extra two points to reduce the deficit to three points with 10 minutes to play.
The Rebels were immediately reduced to 14 men with lock Ross Haylett-Petty red-carded for a dangerous tackle to an opponent’s head in the build-up to the Force try.
A floodlight failure added to the drama, which delayed the restart for 10 minutes.
With the pendulum swinging in their favour, the Force remained camped in the Rebels half in the closing stages, but they were unable to make the vital breakthrough for the victory 10 points to seven.
Western Force – Try: Jack McGregor. Conversion: Ian Prior.
Rebels – Tries: Lachlan Anderson, Marika Koroibete.
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