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AAMI Park, Melbourne
Rebels in historic 28-19 victory over Crusaders
The RaboDirect Rebels defied all the odds and battled their way to an historic 28-19 upset victory over the Crusaders at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The seven-time champions fought back from an early Melbourne onslaught to lead 19-10 at half time, but two tries in as many minutes late in the game from Nick Phipps and Stirling Mortlock gave the Rebels a lead they protected bravely, keeping the Crusaders scoreless in the second half with a fierce defensive effort.
Captain Gareth Delve said that his side are finally beginning to reap the rewards for the belief that has been building from their increasingly impressive performances this season.
“That last 20 minutes, when we got those couple of tries and held them out for the whole of that second half without scoring, I think that’s the culmination of all the work we’ve done, all that belief that’s built up,” said Delve.
“I think that it’s been building for a long time but it’s nice that it’s finally come to the fore."
The Rebels knew they had to take the fight to the visitors, and began attacking from the outset with Kurtley Beale once again directing play assuredly from five-eighth. The Melbourne forwards ran fearlessly and were ruthless in their ball protection, giving the home side almost all the possession and territory in the opening period.
Beale almost opened the scoring with a great turn of pace and a deft chip that the last defender just reached first, but the Rebels continued to pummel the try line, and Phipps eventually burrowed over to reward his forwards’ work with a well-deserved try which Beale converted.
The Crusaders had barely touched the ball or even ventured into the Rebels’ half in the opening quarter, but two long-range penalties from the boot of Tom Taylor kept his side in touch as Beale added another three points of his own for a 10-6 scoreline.
Although the Rebels had managed to earn an incredible 75% of possession through their forwards’ hard graft, the Crusaders quickly stole the lead with a turnover from a well-orchestrated kick chase. Vice-captain Hugh Pyle’s valiant last-ditch tackle held up the counter-attack only momentarily, as the supporting Sam Whitelock found space around the tackle to run over untouched.
Taylor added the extras, and while his team maintained the pressure in the final minutes of the first half the staunch Rebels’ defence limited the Crusaders to two further penalty goals for a 10-19 lead at half time.
The Rebels started the second half just as they had the first, almost crossing the try line soon after the restart but for a pass that just couldn’t find the supporting runner. Their early pressure told however, as the Crusaders conceded two penalties in front of the posts that Beale had no trouble knocking over to put Melbourne right back in the contest at 16-19.
The Crusaders began to look more and more threatening as the half wore on, their electric back three using the space that opened up as both teams began to tire, but the Rebels defence was up to the task and shut down every threat that came their way.
The match then turned in a heartbeat just after the hour mark, as the Rebels finally cracked the solid Crusaders’ defence for their second try of the night. A fantastic offload out of the tackle from Caderyn Neville put Mark Gerrard through a gap, and his selfless pass inside to Phipps saw the scrum half pick up his second try of the night and send the 18,423-strong crowd into a frenzy.
Moments later Mortlock intercepted a pass and linked well with Cooper Vuna, who drew in the last two defenders and offloaded out of contact back to the former Wallaby captain who launched himself over the line in a dive that brought the Rebels fans to their feet once again.
With the lead now at 28-19 with 10 minutes to play, the Rebels surged with an infamous victory now well within their grasp. Every Crusaders’ attack was met with crushing Melbourne defence, and rather than protect their lead they kept attacking until Jaco Peyper blew the final whistle to unleash wild celebrations both on the field and in the stands.
Must look forward, not back
As the dust finally begins to settle at AAMI Park after arguably the most spectacular game of Super Rugby played in Melbourne so far, rosy memories of the RaboDirect Rebels’ dauntless performance against the Bulls must now be replaced by stern preparation for the next – even greater – challenge.
When the Rebels take to the arena on Saturday night against seven-time champions the Crusaders, anyone resting on their laurels from last week’s efforts will be very quickly found out by the notoriously clinical Cantabrians.
“We’re inspired this week because we’re playing against the best Super Rugby side of all time, so if we’re talking about the Bulls performance come Captain’s Run we probably do
n’t have our heads on,” warned Hooker Adam Freier.
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The Rebels’ undivided focus for this clash could ha
rdly be more justified. One could quite easily run out of breath simply listing the Crusaders’ records and achievements, let alone attempting to outplay a squad that boasts countless All Blacks, the leading points scorer in international rugby, and a World Cup-winning captain who also happens to be a three-time IRB player of the year.
Admittedly the New Zealanders have not yet reached their unstoppable best so far this season. A one-point first-round win over the hapless Blues in Auckland, followed by two losses in succession to compatriots the Highlanders and the Chiefs suggested the Crusaders might struggle to contend while their star players Richie McCaw and Dan Carter remained sidelined through long-term injury.
Since then, however, they have started to find their rhythm, winning six of their last seven games, their only loss a narrow two-point affair away to the Bulls. Their 42-14 demolition of the Hurricanes in Wellington served as a reminder that brilliance is never far from the surface with the Crusaders, while their ability to close out the game against a gutsy Reds team in Christchurch last Sunday showed they also know how to grind out victories on their off days.
While there are usually very few noticeable chinks in the Crusaders’ armour, the Reds did the Rebels a service last weekend in exposing one: the Queenslanders put intense pressure on their opponents’ execution, bringing the defensive line up rapidly and using their knowledge of the Crusaders’ planned moves to shut attacks down early. While some teams sit back in awe of their attacking prowess, the Reds stifled the Crusaders’ normally-expansive game plan and frustrated them into making mistakes.
With several other teams also getting far closer to beating the Crusaders than they have in years gone by, Freier was clear in his assessment of how rival sides have succeeded, and what the Rebels need to do to win.
“I think what we need to do is start well. We’ve been in a position of late where we’ve always come from behind,” said Freier.
“I’d like to see us really do everything right in the first part of the game, and then put a bit of pressure - a different type of pressure - on us and the opposition, something they’re not used to.”
The Crusaders have lost two of the three games in which they trailed at half-time this season, so a strong opening to the game on Saturday night certainly gives the Rebels the best chance of defeating their visitors on paper.
The Reds disorientated the Crusaders at home by ignoring the script and putting their marquee players’ skills under unexpected duress. If the Rebels can do the same, combining defensive brutality with the structured aggression they showed in
attack against the Bulls, there is no reason why they can’t add one very famous record of their own to the Melbourne history books.
Kick-off for Saturday night's game is at 7.40pm, with the curtain-raiser between Melbourne Grammar School and the Scotch College 1st XV from 5.05pm with the teams battling it out for the Bob Dalziel Shield on the 80th anniversary of their first game.
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