UPDATE: 'It hurts a fair bit' - Force lament missed opportunities as Naisarani gives Rebels Super Time win

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

UPDATE: The Melbourne Rebels survived a giant scare against the Western Force, claiming a 25-20 extra time victory at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney on Friday night.

Returning Test backrower Isi Naisarani proved to be the hero in his 50th Super Rugby match, scoring against his former side to see the Rebels to back to back victories.

It was a bitter blow for the Force, who were playing the Rebels for the first time in an official match since they lost out to their Melbourne rivals for Super Rugby survival in 2017.

Veteran playmaker Jono Lance missed a kickable penalty after 77 minutes that would have seen them move take the lead.

It was the second time the Rebels had been involved in extra time, after they left Brookvale Oval earlier in the month with a frustrating 18-18 draw against the Reds. On that wet Friday night, extra time proved to be a kick-a-thon as neither side wanted to lose.

But after getting some good field position, the Rebels kept it in tight and managed to score through their retuning backrower Naisarani.

Rebels coach Dave Wessels said he was left with a feeling of relief, but added that his side was far from where they needed to be at this stage of the competition.

"Probably relieved is the word. We didn't play well at all and, jeez, I would be feeling for (Force coach) Tim Sampson because that could have gone either way," Wessels said.

"It wasn't a pretty game by any means. I thought there was some really big moments in that game though for us which I'm proud of. Cameron Orr's tackle in the corner that probably saved them from scoring, then a big scrum before half-time that won us a penalty and awesome bit of skill from Hodgy to kick that over. They were the big moment that we managed to create, but overall not happy with the overall performance of the side.

Wessels was right, Sampson cut a despondent figure at his post-match press conference but said his squad wouldn't give up the fight.

"It's pretty gut-wrenching," he said.

"There's no better way to describe that. We're pretty flat in there understandably. It's pretty tough to take."

Stand-in captain Jeremy Thrush added: "It hurts pretty bad. We played some good football for a little while and then we just, for whatever reason, let the foot off the pedal a little bit and put a fair bit of pressure back on ourselves by scoring some points - it hurts a fair bit."

After a slow opening to the match, it was the Force who posted the first points after 11 minutes.

It was less than a week ago that stand-in  captain Jeremy Thrush turned down multiple shots at goal against the Brumbies.

Super Time win. #FORvREB #SuperRugbyAU

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In hindsight, Thrush later revealed that taking the points on offer and applying "scoreboard' pressure would have been the better option. So when the Force got down deep in the Rebels' half, Thursh didn't hesitate in pointing to the sticks and Lance didn't miss to give them a 3-0 lead.

Moments later the Force blew a golden opportunity as Byron Ralston spilt a ball unmarked out wide after World Cup-winning All Black Richard Kahui burst onto a beautiful ball from Lance.

A minute later, the Force came close to scoring but back-rower Brynard Stander was brilliantly tackled into touch a metre short of the line by loose-head prop Cameron Orr.

It wasn't long before tempers started to flare, with a large scuffle breaking out between the two sides on the 20 minute mark. But for all the jersey pulling, it was nothing more than some wrestling between two sides with plenty of history between them. At least, that's what referee Angus Gardner said when he addressed the two captains.

Eventually the Rebels' poor discipline came back to bite them, as Naisarani was sent to the sin bin for slowing the ball down in the 24th minute.

The Force made the most of the extra man, kicking  for touch and then lock Fergus Lee-Warner scored off the back of a rolling maul. Lance's conversion from out wide saw the Force skip out to a 10-0 lead after 28 minutes.

But the Rebels' response was emphatic, as Test hooker Jordan Uelese scored off the back of a neat short lineout play which saw Orr reel in a lovely ball and with some soft, quick hands and sent his teammate away down the blindside to score. Matt To'omua's sideline conversion saw the Rebels cut the margin to 10-7.

Stand-in Rebels fullback Reece Hodge then levelled the scores four minutes into stoppage time, landing a penalty from out wide just shy of halfway.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first, but when both teams rose from their slumber it was worth the wait.

Thrush's yellow card for cynical play on his own line allowed To'omua to edge the Rebels ahead after 52 minutes.

For the second time in the match though, the side with 14-men scored as the Force hit back five minutes later through Ralston, who made up for his earlier blunder by finishing a wonderful set-piece play that saw Test halfback Nick Frisby allow Lance to exploit an overlap and put Jack McGregor into some out wide.

Lance's sideline conversion saw the Force move 17-13 ahead.

Two minutes later the Rebels returned serve as replacement lock Matt Philip made his presence felt by crashing over to give them a 20-17 lead.

But Lance's penalty in the 63rd minute saw the Force draw level at 20-20.

The playmaker later missed the chance to give his side the lead with four minutes to go with an errant penalty attempt.

Long-range specialist Hodge had the chance to seal the deal after the full-time hooter, but his 58-metre attempt fell just short.

It didn't matter in the end, Naisarani's try giving the Rebels an important win.

Wessels paid tribute to Naisarani after his milestone match by labelling him the "best backrower in Australia".



Tries: Uelese, Philip, Naisarani

Con: To'omua 2

Pen: To'omua, Hodge

Yellow card: Naisarani

Force 20

Tries: Lee-Warner, Ralston

Con: Lance 2

Pen: Lance 2

Yellow Card: Thrush