A spirited first-half performance will be a distant memory for the Melbourne Rebels, as they were thrashed 56-18 by the Auckland Blues in tonight's Super Rugby opener.
The Rebels were disinterested in defence, disorganised in attack and subsequently handed a rugby lesson, outscored 28-3 in a disastrous 25-minute period to start the second half that put the game out of reach.
It initially appeared as though the Rebels of the preseason would not be the Rebels of round one, as they set the tone with solid defensive line speed matched by similarly solid hits.
The lead changed five times in the first 40 minutes, as both sides played enterprising rugby with splashes of round one rust.
But the Rebels that ran out in the first half did not run out for the second, as four unanswered Blues tries to start the second term opened up a 53-18 lead which was never in any sort of danger.
The long-passing, fleet-footed game of scrumhalf Augustine Pulu and the physical domination of Rieko Ioane at outside centre - both on debut for the club - played major parts in the win, either scoring or having a hand in five of the team's seven tries.Flyhalf Ihaia West also looked well in control throughout the win, though he was given plenty of front foot ball by his industrious forwards and Pulu's consistent pass.
Despite his team's performance, Rebels coach Tony McGahan said he was happy with the performance.
"I think the players showed really great intent to play, in both attack and defence," he said.
"When you're playing New Zealand teams they pounce on every opportunity.
"I thought we competed really well there and showed some evidence of some really positive things going forward."
The Blues drew first blood after dominating possession in the opening five minutes, West kicking a penalty from 40m out.
The Rebels created an overlap down the left-hand sideline with their first use of the ball, Tom English showing NBA-level athleticism tohurdle two defenders and throw a left-handed pass to Amanaki Mafi, who dished to Jack Maddocks before Nic Stirzaker raced away for the first 2017 try.
It would be the skipper’s final significant part in the match, as he was trotted off for a concussion test seven minutes later that he did not pass.
A further 10 minutes had passed when the Blues pushed back to an 8-7 lead, Pauliasi Manu using his thick-set frame to drive over after five straight pick-and-drives in the Rebels' red zone.The clock had just ticked past the 24th minute when the first of three Jackson Garden-Bachop missed shots at goal struck the post and created a Rebels try, as the ubiquitous Jordy Reid charged down an attempted West clearance kick, the ball spilling to the Kiwi flyhalf who dived over for five points instead of three.
He missed the conversion before hooking another penalty minutes later.
The Blues made the home side pay for the third miss, as Pulu showed super attacking nous to create a break down the left-hand sideline.
The Rebels could not scramble in time and Matt Duffie streaked away from Laurie Weeks from the ensuing phase to score in the right hand corner of AAMI Park - a familiar feeling for the former Melbourne Storm winger.
Reid may have set up a try with a charge down but he gave seven points back to the Blues when he telegraphed a pass to the left-hand side.Ioane swallowed the pass and ran 50m to dot down under the posts with two minutes to play in the first term, giving his side a 25-15 lead at the break.
It was here that the horror show started.
Reece Hodge's early second half penalty was immediately nullified by a dashing Pulu try.
The new recruit left replacement captain Colby Fainga'a clutching at air up the back of a lineout before he pinned the ears back and split two Rebels cover defenders on the line to open up a 32-18 lead with 44 minutes on the clock.
Ioane crossed for his second six minutes later, leaving four Rebels defenders in his wake as he ran 40m to score.
West then set up a Melani Nanai try with a clever kick to space in behind the Rebels defensive line - Nanai narrowly edging a gallant chase by replacement halfback Ben Meehan to score and open up a 46-18 lead.
It was officially ugly when Ioane crossed for his third of the night, sending a message to the rest of the Super Rugby competition as his team got out to a 53-18 lead.
On the injury front, McGahan said Stirzaker had suffered from blurred vision as a result of the head knock but had not suffered from any other symptoms.
Jonah Placid suffered a dislocated knee cap that popped out and back in but whether there is any lingering damage will be a matter for scans.
MELBOURNE REBELS 18
Tries: Stirzaker, Garden-Bachop.
Pens: Hodge 2.
AUCKLAND BLUES 56
Tries: Ioane 3, Manu, Duffie, Pulu, Nanai.
Cons: West 6.
Pens: West, Francis.