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By Rebels Media Unit
The RaboDirect Rebels headed to nib Stadium in Perth to meet arch-rivals the Western Force in Round eight of the Super XV season. Following a disappointing tour of South Africa, the Rebels knew that nothing less than a repeat of their Round one triumph against the Force would be acceptable.
The Rebels brought Scott Fuglistaller, Cadeyrn Neville and Rory Sidey into the starting line-up following last week's loss in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs as they looked for their third straight victory in Perth.
There was plenty of action right from the get go, with the Force going close to opening the scoring when Alfie Mafi made an inside break in the 4th minute.
But it was the Rebels who broke the deadlock following great work from Richard Kingi down the right hand side. The winger broke through and from the resulting phases the Rebels were able to spread it to the opposite side, where Hugh Pyle scored his second try of the season. James O'Connor was unlucky with the conversion attempt, striking the post.
However it didn't take long for O'Connor to get on the scoreboard, as he added three points in just the twelfth minute when Matt Hodgson was penalised for not clearing the ruck. The Force weren't able to capitalise on an opportunity to do the same when Sias Ebersohn missed a gettable penalty minutes later.
The Rebels made them pay when Jason Woodward scored his first ever Super Rugby try after collecting an Angus Roberts grubber kick. When O'Connor added the extras it was 15-0 to the visitors with a quarter of the match gone.
Hugh McMeniman was thwarted by Nick Phipps as he looked to touch down almost straight from the restart, the Rebels lucky to get a reprieve and retained their advantage. But the Force could not be denied as Winston Stanley scored in the corner with just six minutes of the half remaining, despite Woodward's desperate lunge almost keeping him out.
Despite missing that conversion, Ebersohn added three points from just left of the uprights in the 38th minute and then three more after the half time siren to reduce the deficit to just four points at the break. The momentum at half time was with the Force, and the Rebels needed Head Coach Damien Hill to inspire a repeat of their first twenty minutes.
Hill took a risk after the break, shuffling the backline by bringing Cooper Vuna on for Angus Roberts and moving O'Connor to flyhalf, but it was the front rowers who were leading the way.
Ged Robinson, Paul Alo-Emile and Nic Henderson combined with passing more akin to their backline brethren and after the build-up of consistent phases a beautiful pass from O'Connor released Kingi to score the third try of the Rebels evening.
It was just desserts for Kingi, who had looked dangerous all night, however O'Connor was unable to secure the conversion .
Fresh off his 27th birthday, Laurie Weeks replaced Alo-Emile. The young prop had again impressed, but Weeks loomed as a more than handy replacement and straight from the restart the Rebels begun to again build momentum when in possession.
Consistent pressure allowed O'Connor to extend the lead with another penalty goal. He used his full range to score from almost halfway, but Will Tupou took advantage of lax defence to score the home side's second and his first in Super Rugby following good work from Mafi.
Kyle Godwin took the kicking duties with Ebersohn having been replaced by Sam Christie, and couldn't have had an easier introduction to the role with an easy conversion from right in front.
Woodward appeared to have scored his second of the evening following a flick pass from O'Connor, but the third match official ruled that O'Connor had passed marginally forward and with fifteen minutes on the clock a beautifully-weighted kick from Stanley sat perfectly in the breadbasket of Patrick Dellit for the Force to score their third. Godwin failed to connect properly with the kick, and with fifteen minutes to go the scores were locked at 23 apiece.
Woodward may have been denied a double earlier, but he was determined to touch down again and he was able to do just that. After selling a massive double to Force replacement Christie, Woodward chipped the opposition defensive line and showcased his lighting pace to beat them to line. O'Connor kicked truly, and with ten minutes to go the scored mirrored that of the Rebels’ victory in Round 1; 30-23.
Nic Stirzaker had replaced Nick Phipps, and was impressing with his relentless attack of the football, but he was unfortunate to step into touch in the 76th minute as the Rebels looked to put the result beyond doubt. O'Connor was presented with an opportunity to do just that with two minutes left on the clock, but his radar was off and when Luke Jones was penalised for hands in the ruck a grandstand finish was on.
The Force managed to compile seventeen consecutive phases and exert significant pressure yet the Rebels defence, and most importantly discipline, held firm and when the Force knocked it on the Rebels swiftly booted it into touch to confirm their second victory of the season and third straight at nib Stadium.
Following a hugely trying tour of South Africa, the victory and four try bonus point spoke volumes of this side's determination and progression. The Rebels' back seven, marshalled by the brilliant O'Connor, was more coherent and imaginative over 80 minutes than at any stage this season.
Focus now turns to next Saturday evening's first ever clash against the Southern Kings at AAMI Park. The Port Elizabeth based franchise upset the odds with a last gasp draw against competition leaders ACT Brumbies on Friday evening, and the Rebels will need to be at their best as they attempt consecutive victories for the first time this season.