AAMI Park, Melbourne
The RaboDirect Rebels blitzed the Blues late in the second half at AAMI Park to come away with a dogged 34-23 victory over the three-time former FxPro Super Rugby champions.
Having battled to keep themselves in the game as the visitors dominated possession and territory for much of the match, the Rebels lifted their game when it mattered and scored two late tries to guarantee their second win of the season.
Captain Gareth Delve said his team’s victory was testament to their strength as a group.
“The heads didn’t drop when it looked like the Blues were building some momentum, and that’s the bedrock of us being successful,” said Delve.
“Throughout this team we’re building leaders, we’re building that team spirit that will take us places.
“We speak a lot about trusting each other and going that extra yard for each other, and now we’re seeing it happen out on the pitch.”
A penalty kick from James O’Connor gave the Rebels a nerve-settling lead after just two minutes, but young Blues five-eighth Gareth Anscombe redressed the balance shortly after with a long-range shot of his own.
It became clear very quickly that the Blues were intent upon attacking from everywhere, but having worked their way into the Melbourne danger zone the Rebels refused to allow the Aucklanders over their line.
Wallabies full-back Kurtley Beale then gave his teammates the perfect reward for their sterling defensive efforts – flying in to shut down the overlap, Beale intercepted Brad Mika’s pass before sprinting the length of the field to score.
O’Connor hit the right upright with both his conversion attempt and his next shot at goal, but he made no mistake from right in front of the posts after a Blues’ scrum infringement - his kick stretched the Rebels’ lead to 11-3 just before quarter time.
Anscombe narrowed the gap with two further penalties, but while his side looked menacing in attack out wide ultimately their execution let them down – with seven handling errors in the first half, the visitors were unable to convert their overwhelming 80 per cent possession into a comparable lead on the scoreboard.
A talking-to from coach Pat Lam in the dressing rooms had the desired effect however, as the Blues took the lead almost immediately after the restart. Rene Ranger showed great strength in the tackle to stay in the field of play and offload to Rudi Wulf, who ran around behind the posts to ensure his side came away with seven points.
The Rebels had been offered very little chance to show their skills in attack, kicking more wisely and accurately to play the game in the Blues’ half of the field whenever they could, and crucially ensuring they came away with points each time. Two promising Melbourne attacks were shut down illegally by the Aucklanders, allowing O’Connor to put his side back in front 17-16 as the match entered the final quarter.
Melbourne’s game plan paid dividends when the Blues fumbled the ball once again as they tried to attack from deep. From a quick Rebels counter-strike, replacement hooker Ged Robinson burst through a gap at the breakdown before offloading to O’Connor, who dived over untouched and converted his own try.
With the infamous roar of the Rebels crowd pushing their team up another gear, the Blues were only able to prevent another try through desperate goal-line defence. Melbourne had to settle for an O’Connor penalty and what seemed like a defendable 27-16 lead.
The Blues had other ideas however, and soon pushed their way over from the back of a scrum on the Rebels’ try line to get themselves back within a converted try of victory.
But the Rebels were determined that this was going to be their night, and a huge hit from vice-captain Hugh Pyle in the Blues’ 22 knocked the ball out of the defender’s hand to give his side priceless possession and field position with only a minute to play.
Even with victory now almost assured, the Rebels attacked the Blues’ line as though their season depended on it, and fittingly captain Delve burrowed over as the siren sounded for undoubtedly the biggest roar heard at AAMI Park so this season.
The RaboDirect Rebels welcome the Blues back to AAMI Park on Thursday night at 7:40pm, in what should be a fantastic opening to the Easter weekend of rugby.
Based on their pre-season form and a gripping first game against the Crusaders, you would have needed to be a clairvoyant to bet that the Blues would be lagging near the bottom of the FxPro Super Rugby table after six rounds.
With marquee All Black signings Piri Weepu and Ma’a Nonu adding to an already impressive team sheet, the three-time champions entered the campaign as one of the hot favourites for the title.
But since coming from behind to defeat the RaboDirect Rebels 31-21 in their friendly game at AAMI Park back in February, the Aucklanders have managed just one win from their five matches so far.
Anyone who saw their hard-fought victory over the Bulls in South Africa, or the desperately close losses to their compatriots the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, however, will know that there is far more to this Blues team than their position on the table would suggest.
Refreshed and reorganized after their bye last week, Pat Lam’s men will fancy their chances against a Rebels side returning home to ‘The Stockade’ from a difficult trip to New Zealand’s deep south.
Despite taking an early lead against the Highlanders, the Rebels were outplayed in the second half and went down 43-12 to one of the 2012 season’s surprise performers.
But with the vociferous support of the Melbourne crowd sure to be behind them, and the memory of their determined victory over the Western Force still lingering in the air around their home stadium, the Rebels will also believe this is a game they can win.
Experience gleaned from watching all teams in the competition so far suggests that if the Rebels attack with ball in hand, they will have a far better chance of outscoring their opponents. Having only held the ball for 30 per cent of the match against the Highlanders, the Rebels were always going to struggle to compete.
With strong counter-attacking threats Rene Ranger and Isaia Toeava waiting to pounce on any wayward kicking from the Rebels, powerful line-breakers both in the pack and the midfield, and New Zealand’s World Cup hero Weepu pulling the strings, conceding the ball to the Blues voluntarily is fraught with danger.
Moreover, to give the Blues possession is to waste the Rebels’ own attacking assets. In the recent home games against the Cheetahs and the Force, the Rebels surged back and forth across the field in awe-inspiring displays of running rugby, bringing the Melbourne crowd to their feet and putting valuable points on the scoreboard.
If they can combine that same high-tempo offence with merciless ball protection and another valiant defensive effort, the Rebels have every chance to add a second victory to their 2012 tally.
24 MAY 2013
23 MAY 2013
22 MAY 2013