The Melbourne Rebels’ Australian conference lead hangs by a thread after a thrilling 36-30 loss to the Blues.
After trailing by as many as 18 points, a spectacular Sefa Naiavalu try put them less than a score behind with 11 minutes left in the match.
A handful of Blues penalties gave the Rebels a last-gasp chance but a controversial call against the Rebels for splitting the rolling maul just shy of the tryline gave the final possession to the Blues.
The Rebels were on the back foot pregame, with Lopeti Timani (quad) making way for Sam Jeffries, but they started the match determined to make a positive mark.
Reece Hodge struck first for the Rebels in the third minute, continuing a bumper start to his Super Rugby career, but their celebrations were short-lived with a hat-trick of Blues tries to follow.
Tries to James Parsons, Jerome Kaino and Charlie Faumuina turned a Rebels advantage to a nine-point Blues lead.
Jack Debreczeni temporarily snuffed out the Blues’ scoring run but their optimism was abruptly ended as flyhalf Ihaia West scored from the restart.
The errors started to compound for the Rebels after that, with simple handling errors and a mounting missed tackle count hurting them.
Their set piece got them back on track just before half-time, with blindside Jordy Reid finishing off a rolling maul in the 40th minute.
Melbourne’s hard work was all but nullified in the second minute of the second half, with Tevita Li collecting a deft pass in the left corner and Blues fullback Lonigi Visinia pirouetted out of the Rebels’ clutches in the 52nd minute to stretch the difference to 18 points.
Colby Fainga'a and Naiavalu put the Rebels back in bonus-point range with just 11 minutes left in the game and the Blues’ ill-discipline handed the Rebels a winning shot.
Melbourne will have to wait just two hours to know if they will stay at the top of the Australian conference, a position which depends on the result of the Brumbies Highlanders match.
A Brumbies loss by more than seven points would keep the Rebels a point ahead of their northern rivals, anything else would give the ACT back the top billing.
(Tries: Hodge, Reid, Fainga'a, Naiavalu Cons: Debreczeni 2 Pens: Debreczeni 2)
(Tries: Parsons, Kaino, Faumuina, West, Li, Visinia Cons: West 2, Francis)