Rebels pip Force
Perth - The Melbourne Rebels notched their first away win with a thrilling 26-25 defeat of their luckless rivals the Western Force in their Vodacom Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
It was the second week in a row that the Rebels had overcome a slow start to win as they recovered from an early 12-0 deficit, having come from 17-0 down against the Hurricanes last weekend.
It was another agonising near-miss for the Force, who had a gilt-edged chance to regain the lead in the dying minutes.
Star youngster James O'Connor had the chance to convert a penalty and give the Force the lead in the 74th minute, but his kick just missed to the left of the uprights and it was the last chance the home team had.
It capped a mixed night for O'Connor, who was at his creative best with ball in hand, but struggled with the boot.
There were few signs of a Rebels victory early on, when the Force ran in two tries in the first 10 minutes and constantly looked dangerous.
Sam Wykes and Nathan Charles both scored their first Super Rugby tries in the opening surge, and when O'Connor converted a penalty in the 19th minute the home team led 15-3.
Rebel Mark Gerrard pulled a try back in the 21st minute, before being incorrectly sinbinned a few minutes later for a high tackle that replays showed was legal.
Two late Danny Cipriani penalties saw the Rebels down just 15-14 at the break and they claimed the lead with two quick tries in the second half, with Hugh Pyle intercepting a Cam Shepherd pass and sprinting away, before an inventive play by Cipriani in the 57th minute stunned the Force.
The Rebels won a penalty in the Force 25 and the home team expected Cipriani to kick at the posts, but instead he chipped right across the face to an unmarked Richard Kingi for one of the most creative tries imaginable.
The Rebels led 26-18 at that stage, but a try to the Force's Rory Sidey in the 65th minute, after a break from Wykes, set up the exciting finish.
Rebels captain Stirling Mortlock said it was a most significant win for his team.
"I'm really proud of the boys," he said.
"Two wins in a row is an unusual feeling for us - the monkey off the back."
Force captain Nathan Sharpe could barely comprehend another narrow defeat.
"That is disappointing to lose that one," he said.
"There were too many mistakes from our team tonight, it was very frustrating."
Force – 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13
Nick Cummins, 12 Gene Fairbanks, 11 David Smith, 10 James O’Connor, 9
Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan
Sharpe (c), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek
Substitutes: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18
Tom Hockings, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Matt Brandon,
22 Pat Dellit
15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Richard
Kingi, 13 Lachlan Mitchell, 12 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 11 Luke
Rooney, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Michael
Lipman, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Alistair Campbell, 3 Greg
Somerville, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson
Substitutes: 16 Luke
Holmes, 17 Laurie Weeks, 18 Hugh Pyle, 19 Tim Davidson, 20 Sam
Cordingley, 21 Peter Betham, 22 Afusipa Taumoepeau