The Rebels have broken their Sydney losing streak and cemented themselves in second spot in the Australian Super Rugby conference, with a 21-17 win over the Waratahs.
With just their first win in Sydney and second over the Waratahs in 11 match ups, the Rebels drew equal on points with conference leaders, the Brumbies, and six clear of their round six opponents.
It was the Rebels’ ability to turn sustained pressure into tries that gave them an early advantage, as the Waratahs were left to rue another slow start.
Rebels flyhalf Jack Debreczeni opened the scoring in the third minute with a penalty, before Waratahs counterpart Bernard Foley returned the favour in an evenly matched opening 15 minutes.
Debreczeni added to his tally with a 21st minute try, stepping around NSW tighthead Angus Ta’avao, earning reward for a Rebels attack that hammered the Waratahs defence, and prop Toby SMith had the second four minutes later.
An Israel Folau knock back, considered cynical by the referee, left the Waratahs a man down for the final 10 minutes of the opening half but the Rebels didn’t capitalise on their one-man advantage.
Debreczeni closed out the opening half with a penalty to give the visitors an 18-point half-time lead.
It took 12 minutes but it was developing NSW blindside Jack Dempsey who drew first blood in the second half, crashing over the line to narrow the deficit to 12 points, sparking a second-half resurgence.
After some more conceded opportunities, Waratahs veteran Matt Carraro turned the match into a thriller with the match’s final try in the 70th minute making the gap just four points as full-time closed in.
The Waratahs went to the corner in a last-gasp comeback attempt but the Rebels hung on to take the win.
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper set the tone in physicality, making 18 tackles for NSW, while Rebels lock Luke Jones finished with 14.
The Waratahs were compounded by possible injuries, with in-form backrower Jed Holloway not emerging until after half-time, armed with an ice pack to his hamstring.
Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker made it less than a half on his return to the starting side, on and off twice before the break, before being permanently replaced by Ben Meehan.
Both sides have a bye this weekend, with the Waratahs facing the Brumbies, while the Rebels host the Hurricanes.
Waratahs 17 (Tries: Dempsey, Carraro, Cons: Foley 2, Pens: Foley)
Rebels 21 (Tries: Debreczeni, Smith Cons: Debreczeni Pens: Debreczeni 3)