The Rebels season lay in balance at the beginning of the weekend, needing a win by four points to make it to the finals for the first every time with the ultimate banana skin, the Force were waiting to strike. The final round of Super Rugby AU almost had it all. The top two sides clashed to end the regular season in a match the had nothing but bragging rights for sides already finals bound. It was an unexpected round of Super Rugby AU, lets take a look….
REBELS 34 – 30 FORCE
It was a typical scrappy start for the Rebels and the intent from the Force was clear from the outset. The kicking game of Jono Lance took center stage and penalties gifted territory. Eventually the opening point came from the boot of Lance inside the opening ten minutes.
There was a long period of pressure the Force had to withstand following the opening points, the Rebels camped themselves down in the Force twenty two. After a few missed chances and the Force only hanging on by a thread, the first try of the day came from a tricky scrum set play that allowed Tom Pincus to sweep under the posts untouched to put the Rebels in front.
The kickoffs have been a constant issue for most sides in Super Rugby AU and just like the Rebels first try, the Force hit back much in the same light. Getting the ball back from the restart and setting some good lines in motion. A half break from Lance set the Force forward, then fullback Jack McGregor stood up the defence and perfectly played a short ball to Henry Teafu to go through cleanly and put the Force back in front of the battle.
Some superb kick chase defence allowed Matt To’omua the chance to extend the lead, which was successful from the tee. The wind at the back of the Rebels proving vital in the kicking battle.
Ian Priors charged down kick inside his twenty two was the last thing the Force needed after half an hour of the game. Loosehead prop Cameron Orr picked up the unlikely regather and threw and even more unlikely floating wide pass the Reece Hodge way out on the left side. With plenty of work still to do and a number of defenders hanging on, Hodge still managed to reach out to put it on the line.
In the shadows of the half time break the Force took a leaf out of the Brumbies set piece play book. From the lineout just ten meters from the Rebels like, Andrew Ready sat at the back of his sides destructive maul that smashed its way to the line for a crucial late try in the half.
The Force doing enough to stay in the game and just wont let the Rebels get away. 20-13 at the break lead for the Rebels but the Force playing one of the best half so far this season.
The second half kicked off just as the first ended, the Force uninterested in kicking points now and kept forcing the game into the corner. Another maul just five out this time, the Force attempted the same job as before the break. It wasnt as pretty, but it was just as effective. Ready with his second try in five minutes off the maul and the Force were right back in the contest, levelling the scores at 20-20.
The TMO was kept busy throughout the game, the Rebels being denied a few tries from the man upstairs.
The nerves were starting to set in for the Rebels now as the Force took the lead back again through the boot of Prior.
Straight off the restart things took a turn for the worst for the Rebels Tom Pincus was sent to the bin for intentional knock on with the Force hot on attack.
The Force made the number pay soon after, Brynard Stander getting the reward for some hard pack work with a series of pick and goes from the Force close to the line. Stander has been in incredible form this season and has put him side in a commanding position with an ten point lead.
The game is kicking off at this point. Just one minute later, the Rebels hit right back. Three men set about a kick return with two touches each to score the try. Dane Haylett-Petty launched the counter attack, finding Marika Koroibete and Reece Hodge on the right edge. Hodge cut back inside, hitting the speedy Koroibete and with good reward to following the play, Haylett-Petty backed up for the overlap to grab a fantastic try out of nothing.
Momentum, swings and changes. That last try effected the change. The restart again, Matt Philip went up and Bryon Ralston went straight in to whip him out. There was no hesitation for Gardner who sent hims straight to the bin to give us some fourteen on fourteen rugby.
Time was against the Rebels who no matter how hard they tried, just couldnt breach that Force defence again as the clock ticked on. Both sides getting to nervous of the result to make any effect.
The Rebels spent nearly the whole last ten minutes inside the Force half and mostly inside the twenty two. The TMO denied them another couple of times as the clock continued to tick on. Fergus Lee-Warner was the third man sent to the bin tonight, costing the Force a man for the final five minutes.
The Force hung on until there was just seventy seconds remaining. Another good lesson was learnt the Rebels were denied another try but replacement prop Cabous Eloff continues on and places it simply as you like while everyone else stares at the referee for the first attempt. More TMO time and this time reward for the Rebels and the lead goes to two points and the kick to come. Remember, the Rebels needing to win by four to get into the finals.
To’omua does not disappoint from right in front and puts the Rebels into the finals for their first time in history. How they managed it is still largely a mystery, the Force were fantastic throughout but the Rebels just had the final one minute of play. It was everything we hoped this game would be, the fairy tale not quite coming true, but a great way to kick off a day of rugby!
One man is key for this Rebels team and that is Matt To’omua. Goal kicking was eventually the difference with Prior missing two conversions and To’omua not missing any. His command of the team was a highlight this week again. Matt Philip is becoming a critical player for the Rebels pack. A few weeks ago he was a top performer, now hes a team leader and that was clear to see once again.
The Force were so good, there best eighty minutes this season without a doubt. Even a fair Rebels fan would say they deserved to win this one. Take away the yellow card, Fergus Lee-Warner was fantastic yet again. Versatile as well for the second or back row in the team, strong carrier and defensive and break down presence. Two tries for a hooker that’s not in the Brumbies deserves a mention, Andrew Ready back in the Force team with a statement.
REDS 26 – 7 BRUMBIES
There was nothing on the line tonight between these two sides, with the Brumbies already confirmed top place finishers and the Reds in behind at second regardless of results, but the two sides still named full strength lineups for the final clash of the regular season.
Jock Campbell was an early difference between to two sides and a couple of good breaks set the Reds up on a good attack. It was the third consecutive Campbell break that finally resulted in the Reds getting over the line, captain Liam Wright in support this time to finish the job and the Reds strike first.
Tevita Kuridrani was finally entrusted back into the starting lineup this week but butchered a fantastic try by being so lacklustre on his put down and some desperate defence from Tate McDermott did enough for the ball to be lost in the chase. Really was an amazing break from the Brumbies with offloads all over the place and perfection support play, a real shame it went unrewarded.
James O’Connor and the Reds continued to add scoreboard pressure through the tee, with a couple more penalties as the half wore on.
The Brumbies were especially wasteful in the first forty, basic knock on’s, backline depth concerns and just a lack of basic skill sets.
The set piece and the Reds worked well again, exploiting the Brumbies defence angling in on the backline with some quick passing and Jock Campbell again broke the outside channel and freed away Chris Feauai-Sautia to score on his return and put the Reds in a commanding lead. 18-0 just before half time.
The half time buzzer had rung but the Brumbies finally stuck something together and it all resulted with Pete Samu rampaging on the left wing yet again. His change of direction and support keeping the defence honest allowed Samu to burn his way through to give the Brumbies something to work on from the first half.
Its not often the Brumbies get within five meters of the try line and don’t turn it into some kind of points. Its been a really off game tonight by this whole Brumbies team as they have messed up many close chances losing a number of possessions in the Reds twenty two. Their attack has been flat and easy to read by the Brumbies.
Ticking over the scoreboard is the objective for the Reds, O’Connor the man again to add three more and puts the lead in a position that would require the Brumbies to score three times to take the lead.
While we can talk about how poor the Brumbies have been with ball in hand, most of the credit needs to go to that Reds defence inside its own danger zone. To be able to shut down the Brumbies pack just a few meters out multiple times during the second half was been nothing short of sensational.
The Reds seal the deal following up some terrible high ball defence from the Brumbies. Bryce Hegarty went high and youngster Bayley Kuenzle made a complete hash of it, allowing it past and to bounce up perfectly for the chasing McDermott to grab yet another try for his season.
Its been some display by the Reds but quite some shocker by the Brumbies, 26-7 final score is a fairly fair scoreline too. The Reds defence was sensational and they made points from a good number of chances they were gifted. Was good to see Chris Feauai-Sautia return with a try, Filipo Daugunu was outstanding in open play as well but it was the pack they stood up to the show and put in the display to lead the side. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright, Harry Wilson and the front row were all fantastic.
Rob Valetini and Pete Samu kept the Brumbies standard high but they were far too lonely in the task. They have massive issues in midfield with no one standing up in that thirteen jumper, Tevita Kuridrani was again poor tonight. The lack of depth at ten was also found out with Kuenzle having a poor game, unable to get the backline in motion.
We will see the Brumbies in the grand final in two weeks time and the Reds will face the Rebels next weekend for a place to meet them there. I can guarantee if these two sides meet again in the final, it will be a much much different game.
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