A last-minute try from replacement prop Cabous Eloff helped the Rebels secure their place in the Super Rugby AU play-offs as they beat the Force 34-30 on Saturday.
Needing to win by four of more points in Newcastle, the Melbourne outfit keep their season alive by the barest of margins as the Waratahs subsequently miss out.
Tries from Tom Pincus, Reece Hodge, Dane Haylett-Petty and Eloff saw them prevail, Henry Taefu, Andrew Ready (2) and Brynard Stander crossing for the Force.
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The Force opened the scoring on nine minutes when Richard Hardwick was penalised for a ruck offence, Ian Prior making no mistake from in front to make it 3-0.
It should really have been an almost immediate Rebels reply though but they blew an easy run-in on the blindside as Michael Wells could not hold Matt Toomua’s pass. Despite this, the Rebels were beginning to dominate possession and territory and had their reward when Toomua’s pull-back pass sent Pincus under the posts.
So began the see-saw nature of the game as soon after it was the Force who hit back, Jack McGregor’s well-timed pass seeing Taefu score for an 8-7 lead. Toomua responded off the tee, however, on 23 minutes as the Rebels put their noses back in front at 10-8, which became 13-8 when Hardwick pounced again at ruck time.
The Rebels were now purring and further extended the lead when Hodge finished off on the left wing after prop Cameron Orr sent a superb pass to his centre. And six minutes later the loosehead was unlucky not to add a try to his assist on the other sideline, as the TMO adjudged Hodge had obstructed McGregor’s tackle.
Crucially for the Force they would have the final say of the opening half when hooker Ready went over off the back of a lineout drive, giving them hope at 20-13.
Hope quickly turned into genuine belief soon after the resumption when Ready rolled his way over the whitewash again from the set-piece as it was now 20 apiece.
The Melbourne Rebels have made it to the finals for the first time in history pic.twitter.com/zKkSjZnTg8
— Fox Rugby (@FOXRUGBY) September 5, 2020
That appeared to take the wind out of the Rebels’ sails somewhat and the Force sensed this was their chance for a first win in this season’s competition, Prior’s penalty on 55 minutes adding to that belief. With Pincus then going to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock down near to halfway, Force tails were well and truly up.
So it proved as Stander was next to barge his way over the whitewash on 57 minutes, making it 30-20, before it was the Rebels at last finding some form when a break from wing Marika Koroibete led to Haylett-Petty crossing to get them back to within just three points. That set up a grandstand finish with the Rebels pushing.
They came agonisingly close to retaking the lead on 73 minutes via Koroibete but a forward pass from lock Matt Philip saw the score chalked off. Hope though wasn’t lost as with Force flanker Fergus Lee-Warner shown yellow, they pushed hard for the crossing from close range, with first prop Eloff and then Philip going close.
It was third time lucky late on for the Rebels as, after replacement hooker Maafu thought he had dotted down under the posts, the ball came back to Eloff who made no mistake second time around. With Toomua’s simple conversion, the Rebels sealed their passage to the knockout stages with the last kick of a thrilling game.
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