Melbourne Rebels hold on for Stormers victory
A late penalty try at last gave the Melbourne Rebels something to smile about as they recorded a breakthrough 30-21 win over the Stormers in their Super Rugby clash at AAMI Park.
After coming tantalisingly close in their past four matches, the Rebels finally finished in front to earn their third win of the season and their first-ever over a South African opponent.
Even more impressive, they did it without their Wallabies stars James O'Connor (injured) and Kurtley Beale (suspended).
It looked like Melbourne were in line for more heartbreak when they trailed 21-20 heading into the final 10 minutes, but the TV match official Matt Goddard ruled a penalty try that gave them the lead.
Halfback Nick Phipps grubbered the ball ahead and was held back by Stormers hooker Martin Bezuidenhout, who grabbed his jersey as they raced to the ball over the tryline. Goddard said it was foul play and that Phipps would have likely scored, with referee Mike Fraser awarding the try and yellow carding the No 2.
Fullback Jason Woodward converted and minutes later added a penalty to seal the win.
The Stormers will be ruing four possible chances to kick for a penalty goal in the second half as they went for tries but came up empty-handed. Thy led 14-13 at halftime, although the Rebels got first points through their inspirational skipper Scott Higginbotham, scoring his sixth try of the season.
The visitors' tries came through halfback Louis Schreuder, who pushed aside some flimsy defence and former Springboks winger Bryan Habana.
Melbourne lock Hugh Pyle gave his side the lead with a try in the 52nd minute but again the Stormers hit back, with test locks Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker combining to score out wide.
That handed the Cape Town-based team a 21-20 lead, which they held until the controversial penalty try.
Higginbotham said it was a fantastic performance by his team.
''They pushed up but we hung in there and played a great brand of footy,'' he said.
Stormers captain Jean De Villiers was bitterly disappointed, describing his team's performance as ''embarrassing''.
It means the Stormers return to South Africa with only one win from four games in New Zealand and Australia.
A beaming Rebels coach Damien Hill said he was thrilled for the players.
"They've played exceptionally well over the past month and just barely lost. Tonight that extra 10 minutes of composure led to a win," Hill said.
"It was a really fantastic effort by the whole organisation."
Stormers coach Alister Coetzee agreed with de Villiers' scathing assessment.
"It's the worst performance I've been involved with," Coetzee said.
"I couldn't agree more.
"The Rebels played well and deserved their win but we were shocking."
He said his side made too many unforced errors and poor discipline was costly.
While he said Phipps had been held back he felt the penalty try shouldn't have been awarded because there was a knock on when Higginbotham hit the ball out of a Bezuidenhout's hands while making a tackle.
Higginbotham hinted that the Stormers showed the Rebels a lack of respect by not kicking their penalties.
"They obviously thought that they could beat us easily if they wanted to do that. They (thought they) could score tries and not take the three points," Higginbotham said.
"Credit to us for holding them out."
Melbourne Rebels 30 (Penalty try, Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle tries Jason Woodward 3 cons 3 pens) Stormers 21 (Andries Bekker, Bryan Habana, Louis Schreuder tries Joe Pietersen 3 cons) at AAMI Park. Referee: Mike Fraser. Crowd: 10,333