Melbourne Rebels back Reece Hodge shone with a 20-point debut as the Rebels took a 25-19 victory over the Western Force at nib Stadium.
The Rebels were dealt a major blow in the lead-up to the match with young flyhalf Jack Debrezceni ruled out through injury, shifting experienced playmaker Mike Harris to flyhalf, Tom English to the wing and Hodge to fullback.
Hodge was shifted into the chief playmaking spot on debut after Harris limped off with a hamstring injury in the 23rd minute, putting the 22-year-old well and truly in the spotlight.
The youngster took it in his stride
Hodge was busy early showing off his massive boot in the field of play and from set shots, slotting a penalty goal inside the opening three minutes to give the Rebels an early lead.
Outside centre Tamati Ellison had more issues with his kicking, making two errors inside the opening three minutes, and giving up a penalty in the 11th minute, giving new Force recruit Jono Lance a chance to level the scores.
The Force were starting to gain some momentum when Ben Tapuai found a gap making a 40m run through the Rebels defence but Adam Coleman was unable to control the offload.
That play was reflective of a first half in which the Force threatened but were let down by their skills making five handling errors and seven turnovers inside the opening 15 minutes.
In the 22nd minute it was Rebels captain Sean McMahon who was penalised for being offside, with Jono Lance made the most of his opportunity to take the lead.
Ellison moved past his early errors to break two tackles and set Hodge up for the first try of the match in the 31st minute to give the Rebels a 10-6 lead.
Just a couple of minute later it was Toby Smith who was penalised, giving the Force a scoring chance.
The Force made the most of their opportunity as Lance sliced and diced his way past two defenders to score his first try for his new club.
Lance converted his own try to take the lead 13-10 just shy of half time.
Just when the Force looked like taking the lead into the break, the Melbourne Rebels put 10 phases together with former All Black Adam Thomson finding the corner to give them a 17-13 lead at halftime.
The Rebels were eager to start the second half with a bang but Sean McMahon was too keen and was penalised for being offside, as Jono Lance continued his 100% kicking to punish the Rebels captain.
Former Springbok Peter Grant replaced young gun Kyle Godwin in the 46th minute, giving the home side a re-energised attack.
The Rebels were penalised at the scrum in the 60th minute and Lance made no mistake making it 5/5 for the night to narrow the margin to just one point.
The back and forth Rugby continued and so did Hodge’s dream debut as Ellison once again set up the youngster for what was ultimately the match winning try.
The scoring tapered off in the second half with the tired bodies starting to show, with the temperature still 28 degrees at 9:30pm
The Western Force continued to put pressure on the Rebels in the dying minutes but the Rebels were able to hold on to a six point victory.
It was a battle of the new recruits with Hodge finishing with two tries and 20 points and Jono Lance with one try and 19 points.
While the Force will be disappointed with their loss their new game plan was on show as they continued to throw the ball around in attack despite numerous errors.