The Melbourne Rebels have upset the Western Force 22-16 at AAMI Park on Friday night in a strong performance, and also ending the Force's run of five wins in a row.
The Rebels proved to be too much of a handful for the Force to contain, with Luke Jones, Shota Horie and Colby Fainga'a all starring for Melbourne through their rigour in both attack and defence.
The victory comes at reward for the Rebels for their continuous improvement and noticeable development in the last month, but also as vengeance for their big loss in this same fixture earlier in the year in Perth.
The improvements were noticeable; they had seemingly learnt from their clash with the Chiefs the week before and began to do what the Waikato team had done to them with their unrelenting running and pushing, moving the Force side to side and tiring them out.
Passing and offloading was much cleaner from the Rebels, and not as many penalties conceded.
In defence, the Rebels were quick and hard, giving the Force little time to make a pass or move forward, stopping numerous try-scoring opportunities close to the line, forcing turnovers and plucking loose balls in the ruck.
The Force opened their account for the night with a goal in the first four minutes of the game, following a Melbourne offside penalty. Less than ten minutes later, this was countered when the Rebels won a penalty and Woodward converted truly.
The Rebels held the possession through the first 20 minutes of the match, attacking strongly through Horie, Jones and Tamati Ellison, with Jones also becoming an ever-increasing presence in the lineout, taking the majority of Melbourne's throws and intercepting one of the Force's.
At 6-6, a kick from Jason Woodward was charged down inside the Rebels 22 and gave the Force a big chance at a try, but the desperation Rebels defending kept them at bay and eventually forced a turnover.
It was a strong first half from the Rebels who dominated all statistics. The Rebels defending was impressive, but the Force's was on equal, forcing a stalemate at the break.
After a penalty to the Rebels commenced the second half, an unlucky bounce from a kick opened the field up for the Force to come in an claim an open try, but the Rebels defence came back and covered well. They managed to hold off wave after wave of Force forays to deny them close opportunities of a try for almost three minute. In the end, a desperation tackle from Fainga'a on Kyle Godwin resulted in a penalty, giving them only three-points.
With tries hard to find, another penalty gave the Rebels the lead back; Woodward putting through his fourth for the evening.
The inclusion of Luke Burgess into scrumhalf in the second half allowed the game to open up for the Rebels. His sharp passes increased the tempo of their attacks, and a change of plan from McGahan saw them go up the middle of the park instead of out wide.
A big movement forward from Melbourne put the Force under pressure fifteen minutes into the second. Fainga'a and Horie worked themselves ragged getting the ball forward and put pressure on the Force. An attempt at the line turned into a scrum, before Higginbotham was able to emerge from it, shake off two or three defenders and out his arm over for the first try of the game.
The Force tried to get on the attack in the final ten minutes of the match, and managed to get themselves into the 22 on a few occasions, but the unkind defence of the Rebels proved too surly for the tiresome Force, earning turnovers in the ruck and getting caught out on the counter several times.
A consolation try at the end of the match gave the Force a bonus point, but the overall feeling from the night for the them was disappointment. The Rebels would've been targeted as an away win they should've won to get them to the top of the Australian conference, but it eventuated to nothing.
The Rebels lost Laurie Weeks early in the first half to a head knock, and failed his ensuing concussion test. This is after he suffered a head knock earlier in the season against the Crusaders.
The Rebels next week have the bye, but will return in round 12 for their clash against league leaders, the Sharks, at AAMI Park. The Force will host the Bulls at NIB Stadium on Saturday.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your review of the game? It was impressive for the Rebels, but can they keep it up for when they face the Sharks? Can the Force bounce ack from this defeat?
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