The Melbourne Rebels have recorded their first victory over the HSBC Waratahs, turning in a superior defensive performance to edge a closely-fought Melbourne contest.
Leading by three points at half-time courtesy of an Israel Folau try and 11 points from the boot of Berrick Barnes, the HSBC Waratahs were unable to penetrate the solid home side defence and were eventually punished by Rebels’ wing Tom English, whose second try in the closing minutes sealed victory for the home side.
After putting together a string of three impressive victories, the disappointment was evident when HSBC Waratahs’ captain Dave Dennis spoke after the match. “We didn’t have the right attitude going into the game and it showed,” Dennis told Fox Sports.
“The first half was poor and discipline in the second half hurt us as well. There were a lot of easy turnovers from dropped balls and pushed passes, stuff that we haven’t done for a while. It’s really disappointing.
“After a couple of good wins, we maybe thought things would just happen for us. But the reality is that the Melbourne team are on a roll and we had to work a lot harder than we did tonight to get the win.”
After early penalties from Rebels fullback Jason Woodward and HSBC Waratahs inside centre Berrick Barnes, there was nothing to separate the teams after eight minutes.
A defensive error out wide cost Dennis’ men seven points shortly afterwards, when English crossed for his first try in the right-hand corner and Woodward’s conversion gave his side an early 10-3 lead. A second Barnes penalty, awarded when the Rebels’ midfield was caught offside in front of the posts, narrowed the gap to four points after 13 minutes.
Two further penalties took the score out to 13-9 after 33 minutes, before Folau’s try put the HSBC Waratahs in the lead for the first time shortly before the break.
The try, Folau’s eighth in Super Rugby, came off the back of a sustained period from the NSW attack. After repelling numerous attempts at their try-line, the Rebels produced what could have been a dangerous turnover and quickly looked to move the ball wide against a stretched NSW defence. But some perfect timing from Folau allowed the fullback to turn a defensive two-on-one into a try, propelling him up to joint-top of the Super Rugby try-scoring table.
Maintaining his 100% record with the boot, Barnes added the conversion to give the visitors a three-point 13-16 half-time cushion. Two further penalties for each side kept the teams neck-and-neck as the HSBC Waratahs maintain a three-point lead with the score at 19-22 going into the final quarter.
After stringing together a phenomenal 22 phases of attacking pressure, the visitors’ looked favourites to win the game as the match entered the final quarter. But in what proved to be the turning point, the Rebels forced a turnover, with captain Scott Higginbotham kicking NSW back into their own half. The turnaround was complete just minutes later when the Rebels defence forced yet another turnover, allowing Woodward to break away for a 50m run that put his side within striking distance of the try-line. Eight phases later, the turnaround was complete when English added a second try to send his side back into the lead with just eight minutes remaining.
But the drama wasn’t over and when Woodward missed the conversion, NSW had the chance to snatch back a one-point victory when the Rebels were penalised for illegally joining a ruck. Replacement scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin lined up for a near-sideline penalty in the 78th minute and although his attempt drifted to the right of the uprights, the HSBC Waratahs were back on the attack shortly afterwards, regaining possession from the restart to mount a last-ditch attempt with just 60 seconds on the clock. But as the siren sounded, yet again the Rebels’ defence won out, turning the ball over in a ruck to allow replacement Nic Stirzaker to send it into the stands and seal a home victory.
The win is the Rebels’ first against the HSBC Waratahs in six meetings and sees the Melbourne side lift the Weary Dunlop Shield for the first time in its history. The HSBC Waratahs now face another tough away match against the Crusaders in Christchurch in a week’s time.
Melbourne Rebels 24 (tries: English 2; pens: Woodward 4; cons: Woodward) defeated HSBC Waratahs 22 (tries: Folau; pens: Barnes 4; cons: Barnes, McKibbin)