The Melbourne Rebels remain in the hunt for a second consecutive finals appearance following a spirited performance against the second-placed Brumbies at AAMI Park on Sunday.
Despite the 20-26 home loss – Melbourne’s first against the Brumbies since 2016 – the Rebels managed to claim a late bonus point, something which may prove to be crucial with the last spot in the three-team finals to be decided in the final round next weekend.
The Rebels entered the Community Round clash welcoming back a wave of Super Rugby experience, including current Wallabies’ squad member, Isi Naisarani and talented prop, Cameron Orr, who both returned for their first games of the season.
In a lively opening forty minutes packed with brute force and unrelenting physicality, the hosts opened their scoring account early when hooker, James Hanson, crossed over in the eighth minute for his first try in his second stint with the Rebels.
A run of seven penalties including yellow cards to Marika Koroibete and Trevor Hosea, would thwart Melbourne’s momentum, sending the Brumbies to a 19-7 lead at the main break, courtesy of tries to Rory Scott, Cadeyrn Neville and Tom Wright.
With a fiery Victorian crowd behind them, the Rebels came out inspired in the second half.
A brilliant 43rd minute run by returning centre, Campbell Magnay, led to Joe Powell scoring his first try against his former side, sending the Melbourne faithful into raptures.
Nine-minutes later, a successful To’omua penalty saw the home-side close the margin to just two points with half an hour remaining.
However the Brumbies quickly responded, with a try to Bayley Kuenzle seeing the away side claim a thrilling six-point win.
Melbourne Rebels’ prop, Cameron Orr, believed that while his side couldn’t snatch victory in the dying moments, there were still a lot of positives to take away from Sunday’s enthralling encounter.
“It was great to be back out there with the boys again,” said Orr. “We showed some real fight in the second half, some little mistakes hurt us, but there’s a lot to be happy about from today.
“We came up short today, but we have our eyes firmly set on next Saturday’s clash - it’ll be a big match and we can’t wait.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, it was a resilient performance by a much-improved Melbourne Rebels side.
The Rebels were strongly led by its senior players including Joe Powell who continues to be one of his side's most consistent performers ( 68 passes, 7 tackles, 6 runs, 2 defenders beaten and a try), the bustling Marika Koroibete ( 11 runs, 78 metres, 3 defenders beaten) and Vice-Captain, Michael Wells ( 4 runs and 9 tackles).
Meanwhile Campbell Magnay (8 runs, 44 metres, 3 defenders beaten) and Isi Naisarani (9 runs for 25 metres) both made impressive appearances in their return back to top-level competition, despite playing limited minutes.
The Rebels will now turn their attention to Saturday night’s do-or-die clash against Weary Dunlop rivals, the NSW Waratahs in Sydney. With the Rebels needing a win to keep their finals chances alive, next week’s clash shapes as an unmissable night of Australian rugby.