Rebels escape with win in season opener
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.