Luke Jones of the Rebels is tackled. (Photo by Scott
The Melbourne Rebels are first on the Super Rugby
winners' list after escaping with a 30-23 win over the Western
Force in their season-opening clash.
The Rebels trailed 11-0 midway through Friday night's opening
half at AAMI Park, but three tries and 15 points from the
radar boot of star fullback James O'Connor helped the home
team to victory.
The Force were rocked in the second half when they had only
13 players for seven minutes with key flanker Chris Alcock
and then halfback Alby Mathewson both yellow-carded for
seemingly innocuous off-the-ball incidents.
Referee Angus Gardner had already set a precedent in the
first half, yellow-carding Rebels recruit Scott Higginbotham
for allegedly throwing a punch at Force lock Toby Lynn.
While the Force duo were off, Rebels winger Richard Kingi
touched down after a long pass across field by O'Connor, with
the conversion opening the lead up to 11 points.
But the Perth side showed their spirit with replacement
forward Richard Brown scoring in the 69th minute for a 27-23
Force winger Alfie Mafi did his best to help his side snap a
two-game losing streak to Melbourne, scoring two tries, but
in the end the Rebels had too much firepower.
It started as a slow burn, however, with Melbourne playing
the first half with only 40 per cent possession.
With the Force piling on the pressure, the Rebels' error rate
was costly early on as they struggled to find rhythm.
The visitors, missing injured skipper Matt Hodgson, set up
their 11-0 lead through the boot of rising star Kyle Godwin
and Mafi's first try.
Tries each side of the main break, scored by hooker Ged
Robinson and Hugh Pyle, proved the difference.
Pyle's try came after Kingi showed his skill and managed to
bat the ball back inside to the athletic lock as he was going
over the sideline.
While O'Connor looked sharp after a long stint on the
sidelines with a troublesome hamstring, Kiwi Mathewson also
impressed in his Force debut, particularly in the first half.
It was their third straight victory over the Force and
biggest winning margin, with only a point deciding their past
Despite the tight scoreline, Hill said there were a lot of
positives, not the least being the first opening-round win
for the Rebels.
He was particularly pleased with the effort of the tight
five, especially prop Laurie Weeks and second-rowers Pyle and
"In the first 20 minutes, we chose not to treasure possession
and then the discipline started to go as fatigue started to
"For the first 30 minutes, we were on the back foot but, to
the players' credit, they were able to go into the second
half still in the game.
"The second half, while not as clinical as we would have
liked, was better."
Force coach Michael Foley, in his first Super game since
switching from NSW, was also pleased with his team's effort,
pointing to their ball usage.
He wasn't too fazed by the two yellow cards, saying the teams
had been warned on a crackdown.
"The referees have warned us they are going to be
particularly tough early in the season because they want to
see the game open up.
"If we've infringed and they've made those decisions, we
The Force next travel to South Africa to face new team the
Southern Kings while the Rebels host the Brumbies next week.