Rugby: Rebels down Force 30-23 in Super rugby

Luke Jones of the Rebels is tackled. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Luke Jones of the Rebels is tackled. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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 scoreline.

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 two clashes.

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 Luke Jones.

"In the first 20 minutes, we chose not to treasure possession and then the discipline started to go as fatigue started to build.

"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 accept that."

The Force next travel to South Africa to face new team the Southern Kings while the Rebels host the Brumbies next week.