AAMI Park, Melbourne
The RaboDirect Rebels made the Brumbies sweat for their 27-19 victory in Melbourne on Friday night, in a match that was anyone’s for the taking right until the end.
After allowing the Australian conference leaders to take an early lead, the Rebels worked their way back into the contest by half-time, and could have gone into the changing rooms with the lead but for a disallowed try just before the break.
The Brumbies made their weight of possession tell in the second half, however, and kept the scoreboard ticking over as the home side were repeatedly penalised at the breakdown. Try as they might, the Rebels just couldn’t claw back the narrow deficit before the final whistle sounded.
Head Coach Damien Hill said his side had enough opportunities, but their inability to take their chances ultimately cost them.
“We had enough possession and enough field position in that second half to score points, and it is disappointing that we weren’t able to convert that pressure into points,” said Hill.
“The effort’s definitely there –execution and maybe a little bit of discipline at times let us down.”
It was a jittery start for the Rebels, with early breakdown infringements gifting the Brumbies a 9-0 headstart from the boots of Jesse Mogg and Zac Holmes.
Luke Jones and Cadeyrn Neville led the Rebels back into the match with crashing runs at the Brumbies’ defence, and eventually the sustained pressure resulted in a penalty that allowed Julian Huxley to rein in the deficit.
The referee was sharp on the breakdown from the very beginning, and quickly lost patience with the Rebels for not rolling away. Jono Owen ultimately paid the price with 10 minutes in the sin bin, and the Brumbies quickly made their advantage count as centre Andrew Smith crossed for a try as the desperate Melbourne defence ran out of numbers.
Huxley kicked two penalties following a sustained period of attacking pressure to bring the score back to 14-9 as half-time approached, before a brilliant break from James Hilgendorf almost gave the Rebels the lead.
As the Brumbies defence rushed up from a lineout, the five-eighth skipped his way through a gap and sprinted towards the tryline. The chasing tacklers brought him down agonisingly close to the line, and while his momentum looked to have taken him over, the video referee decided the footage was inconclusive.
The Rebels assaulted the line once again from the ensuing scrum, but try as they might they couldn’t make the crucial last few inches to the chalk. A consolation penalty had to suffice, and the teams left the field with the scores at 14-12.
Early points went the way of the Brumbies once again in the second half, as Holmes slotted another short-range penalty.
For a time it seemed as though the Brumbies would have to content themselves with shots at goal, with the Rebels defence holding firm even as trick passes and daring offloads threatened to split them open.
But soon enough the visitors converted their time in Rebels’ territory into further points. A pass out of the tackle after a long attacking sequence created an overlap for full-back Robbie Coleman to score, taking the lead out to 24-12.
The Rebels struck back immediately from the restart, however. The ball bounced into the arms of Gareth Delve from the kick-off, and the No. 8 offloaded brilliantly to Cooper Vuna, who swerved and dummied before making for the left corner and diving over. Huxley nailed the difficult kick from out wide to add the extras and cancel out the Brumbies’ advantage in an instant.
The two scores seemed to spark the game to life, and some high-tempo, running rugby followed as the match entered the final quarter. But with both sides desperately seeking a decisive score, their execution began to waver and passes went astray.
Eventually the Brumbies managed to gain some breathing space with another penalty, taking their lead to 27-19 as the clock wound down.
But the Rebels had no intention of giving this game up, and spent the final minutes hammering away at the Brumbies’ defence. Time was against them however, and a handling error after the siren sounded denied their hopes of earning what would have been a deserved bonus point.
A welcome rest and some valuable recovery time await the RaboDirect Rebels, as the upcoming June international series brings a three-week hiatus to the Super Rugby season. But first they have one more challenge to face.
The conference-leading Brumbies return to AAMI Park on Friday night, and will be confident they can repeat their Round 8 victory.
But with the resurgent Reds now breathing down their necks, the men from Canberra cannot afford any slip ups if they want to guarantee qualification for the finals. They are yet to win in Melbourne, and will have to prove themselves again after their one-point loss last round.
Meanwhile the Rebels will have to draw on all of their strength as a squad to overcome an injury list that was lengthened yet again last weekend, and to bounce back from a below par performance in Wellington.
Despite leaving New Zealand bruised and disappointed with the way they played, the Rebels have quickly regrouped since their return to Melbourne.
“The mood’s been positive. We’re really looking forward to playing at home this Friday night,” said Stirling Mortlock.
“It’s a big challenge for us playing against the Brumbies, who are the top of our conference, so a lot of things to be excited about.”
Click HERE to watch the video interview with Mortlock.
Jake White’s men arrive in Melbourne following an atypical performance of their own last Saturday night.
Normally the most attacking of the Australian teams this season, the Brumbies were instead drawn into a battle of field position with their Queensland rivals. Their incisive backline effectively became spectators as the forwards rumbled, and kicking became the order of the day.
Even so, the Brumbies were the Reds’ equals in the arm wrestle, and had a chance to win the contest with a penalty at the death. Sadly for new recruit Zac Holmes, however, his flawless kicking record for the evening expired at the crucial moment.
But while the fear of making mistakes in attack may have cost them last weekend, expect no such restraint on Friday night. The Brumbies will attempt to tire and manipulate the Rebels’ defence with their mobile forward pack, waiting for the opportune moment to unleash the backline that has been so dangerous all season.
The Rebels may have plenty of first-choice players on the sidelines, but it is worth remembering that similar circumstances earlier in the season gave newcomer Cadeyrn Neville the opportunity to prove himself in the Super Rugby arena, which led to his recent selection in the Wallabies train-on squad.
With the Melbourne crowd behind them once again for their penultimate home game of the season, Mortlock had no doubt that the Rebels would raise their game for the top side in Australia this year.
“We love being back at home, we love playing at AAMI Park. We get such tremendous support. Our members are amazing - they’re so vocal,” said Mortlock.
“You really like playing against the best, and at the moment the Brumbies are the best in our conference so it’s a great challenge.”
Click HERE to purchase tickets for the Brumbies clash.