The Melbourne Rebels have finished their Super Rugby AU season on a high, retaining the Weary Dunlop Shield after defeating the NSW Waratahs, 36 – 25, in an entertaining Saturday night contest at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney.
Despite enduring a challenging past three weeks, the Rebels entered their Round 10 match brimming with confidence, having won three of the last four encounters against their traditional rivals.
The Rebels selected a strong match day 23, welcoming back a host of familiar names to its starting XV, including Wallaby Isi Naisarani, gifted flanker, Brad Wilkin, Jordan Uelese and reigning ‘Spirit of Weary Dunlop’ recipient, Cameron Orr.
Eager to make a fast start, the Rebels wasted no time opening their scoring account, when a Matt To’omua cross field kick found a soaring Stacey Ili to register the Rebels’ first try of the night.
Ili’s catch and cross over was the fastest try in Rebels’ Super Rugby history.
The away side would extend its lead twelve minutes later when Vice-Captain, Michael Wells, raced over for his second try of the season, following a blindside break from the scrum by Isi Naisarani.
Unfortunately, Naisarani’s return to the number eight jersey would be short lived, with the twenty-six-year-old sent straight to the bench following a high tackle on Waratahs’ lock, Max Douglas in the 20th minute.
Despite a spirited Waratahs’ fightback, and being a man down for twenty minutes, the Rebels entered the main break leading 21 – 18.
That would be as close as the home side got, with the Rebels starting the second half much like they began the first – an immediate try- this time courtesy of Northern Panthers’ star, Rob Leota, following a powerful driving maul in in the 43rd minute.
Matt Gibbon soon joined in on the party, crashing over the line from close range in the 66th minute, in what was the prop’s first try of the season.
A 77th minute red card saw Pone Fa’amausili join Naisarani on the bench, though it wouldn’t matter, with the Rebels’ seven-man pack winning a scrum penalty in 81st minute to close out the entertaining affair.
The winners were strongly led by Vice -Captain Michael Wells, who continued his stellar domestic campaign (6 runs for 34 metres, 9 tackles and 1 try), while Ross Haylett-Petty (5 runs, 9 tackles) and Burn Boys’ Jordan Uelese (5 runs, 11 tackles and 7 lineouts won) and Rob Leota (7 runs and 1 try) all played impressive games.
Melbourne Rebels’ Head Coach, Dave Wessels, said:
“I’m proud of the boys because obviously last night the result didn’t go our way, so emotionally I think there was a real risk about today, but we didn’t get that.”
“To scrum them over last play of the game on their ball, I though the effort was excellent from the guys and I’m proud of that.”
Captain, Matt To’omua, submitted one of his most consistent domestic campaigns, becoming the first Melbourne Rebel to score 100 Super Rugby AU points in a regular season, after successfully converting in the 44th minute.
To’omua finished with an eye-catching 102 points from 8 matches this season, following his 96 points scored in 2020.
Speaking after the win, To’omua said it was great to welcome back so much experience for the last game of the season.
“We were missing so many players and so much experience early in the season and that’s what you need in games with one play or one score,” said To’omua.
“But you could just feel it tonight with the guys we had out there, they just knew the plan.
“Ross Haylett-Petty calling out our lineouts – he knew where we were strong and where we were going, so I think those are things we really missed in those tight games early in the season – it’s such fine margins.”
The Rebels will now turn their attention to next month’s Trans-Tasman competition scheduled to kick-off in Melbourne on May 15, when the Rebels host the Blues on Saturday night at AAMI Park.