Wessels praises Rebels' grit in drought-breaking win

Super Rugby
by RUGBY.com.au

Rebels coach Dave Wessels has praised his team's grit to hold on for their first home win against a New Zealand team in almost four years despite a faltering final quarter that almost cost them the match.

The Rebels survived a late scare from the Highlanders to hold on for a 24-19 win against the Highlanders, their first home win against a New Zealand side since 2015.

Melbourne denied boom Highlanders forward Shannon Frizell a match-levelling try in the dying minutes, the flanker dropping the ball over the line in the 78th minute, with the Rebels hanging on for victory.

After a scorching day where temperatures reached 40C, the Rebels petered out in the final stages of the match.

But it was match smarts, rather than stamina that they lacked, failing to shut the visitors out after an outstanding first 60 minutes in which they weathered the Highlanders' storm before hitting back to dominate.

"To be able to perform at that intensity under those conditions I thought was pretty special," Wessels said.

"I thought for the first 60 minutes of the game we were doing a lot of the things that we wanted to do and playing the way that we want to play and then for whatever reason, we moved away from that.

Dane Haylett-Petty of the Rebels runs with the ball during the round three Super Rugby match between the Rebels and the Highlanders at AAMI Park on March 1, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

"That's probably the (thing to) work on for us, is to figure out why that happened -- and probably why we didn't adapt quicker.

"If the game had finished at 60 minutes we would have been very happy.

"We're obviously happy to have the win but we've worked hard as a group to judge our mood on our own performances and trying to get better every week -- and I think for the large part we were.

"But in a way it's a bit nice to see some of the players not as pleased about it because it was by no means a perfect performance.

"That's a very healthy thing."

After pushing out to a 12-point lead early in the second term when Billy Meakes crossed for a try, the Rebels kicked possession away and were forced to withstand a charging Highlanders comeback.

Despite a dearth of possession early in the game, the Rebels failed to learn their lessons and kicked the ball away too often in the dying stages, their attempts to play the game in the visitors' territory poorly executed and instead, handing them opportunities to get back in the game.

With a try from a Jackson Hemopo drive in th 63rd minute, the visitors were suddenly back in the match and having come back to win their opening two games of the season, the Highlanders were full of confidence.

Will Genia of the Rebels passes the ball during the round three Super Rugby match between the Rebels and the Highlanders at AAMI Park on March 1, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

A missed penalty attempt from Reece Hodge and a kick out on the full from Will Genia handed the visitors possession in the final stages and they charged down the field, with only some desperate defence holding the them out.

A double to classy centre Tom English had the Rebels holding a 19-12 lead over the Highlanders at halftime and they looked in control despite conceding a try inside the first two minutes and having little possession in the opening 20.

A break for the second-round bye has done nothing to break the mojo halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper found in the season-opener against the Brumbies, with the pair again leading their team around the ground.


A magical pass from Cooper found Jack Maddocks on the fly and he was in the thick of the action again early in the second half, putting a pin point grubber into the in-goal for Meakes to pounce on.

When they were able to keep the ball in hand, the Rebels showed plenty and Cooper and Genia created chances for their flat attack, including one which led to English's second try of the night.

Adam Coleman entered the match after 55 minutes, getting his first taste of Super Rugby action this season after injuring his calf while in camp with the Wallabies in January, while Reece Hodge also returned from an ankle injury.


Rebels 24

Tries: Tom English 2, Jack Maddocks, Billy Meakes

Cons: Quade Cooper 2


Highlanders 19

Tries: Shannon Frizell, Siate Tokolahi, Jackson Hemopo

Cons: Bryn Gatland, Marty Banks