Force vs Rebels Five Things: 'Best back-rower in Australia', Force's push for Super inclusion

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

The Melbourne Rebels made it back to back wins in Super Rugby AU by edging past the Western Force in Super Time.

Here are five things we learnt from the 25-20 win at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.

FORCE STAYING THE JOURNEY

They might be 0-4 but the Force aren't just making up the numbers.

At the end of the day the Force will be judged on whether they can win, but the Force are proving competitive and, more importantly, they're showing a fighting spirit that fans can get behind.

It's important to remember, too, that the Force will likely play every match away from home in 2020. Not only that, where the other four Australian sides had the best part of two months playing week-in, week-out in Super Rugby before COVID-19 shut the competition down, the Force were yet to play a game and confined to the training paddock.

The Force in many ways have exceeded expectations given the hand they've been dealt. That said, only a win will help the confidence levels.

Rebels coach Dave Wessels paid tribute to the Force's fighting spirit.

"Yeah, as I said before the game, just helluva pleased to see them back in the comp - where they should be, they should never have been cut in the first instant - and they played with a typical spirit that you expect with a Western Force team," Wessels said.

"I just hope that they play in the comp."

SUPER TIME SEES A WINNER 

The Rebels showed that they're quick learners, as they snuck home against the Force.

Anyone that was at or watching the first edition of Super Time between the Reds and Rebels at Brookvale Oval last month would have rolled their eyes at the thought of another kick-a-thon. 

On that wet Friday night, neither side wanted to lose.

That changed a month later, with the Rebels putting the foot on the throat. They had the kick-off and didn't let the Force into the game.

"It was a case that you wanted territory over possession towards the end there either to force a penalty or force a mistake," To'omua said in his post-match press conference.

"Having the kick-off was good.

"I asked the young guys that had just come off the bench for a lift in intensity that we'll get the first shot and we don't need a second one and I'm a really proud that they responded there.

"The first 80 minutes aside, that few minutes of Super Time was how we wanted to play the whole game, so I'm glad that we at least ended that way."

TEST EXPERIENCE COUNTS

As much as Australians like to think that the depth in the country will allow for five teams, we saw the importance of Test quality on display.

Without Jono Lance, the Force would not have been as competitive as they have.

The veteran playmaker, who won titles at the Reds and Waratahs, is one of the most competitive men in Australian rugby. He's always in the fight and his skill-set is helping the Force immensely.

Similarly, Sampson's decision to promote Test pair Richard Kahui and Kyle Godwin in the midfield brought some potency, experience and aura to the Force's side.

REBELS RESILIENCE

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Rebels' future was once again up for discussion.

Their comprehensive victory over the Waratahs a week ago let their actions do the talking. On Friday night, although the performance wasn't quite as polished, they did what good sides do by finding a way to win.

It repeated what we saw earlier in the year, where they were embarrassed by the Sunwolves in Japan and in Canberra a week later, but managed to work their way into the season by impressive victories over the Highlanders in Dunedin and the Waratahs and Lions at home.

The Rebels are far from the finished product. Their star-studded back-line continues to look clunky, but they haven't been helped by little injuries which has seen the continuity of the side disturbed.

But their hard-working and unheralded forward pack is getting the business done. Cameron Orr showed great all-round skills by pulling off a try-saving tackle after 15 minutes and later backed up the defensive work with a lovely soft pair of hands to send front-row teammate Jordan Uelese in to score. 

'BEST BACK-ROWER IN THE COUNTRY'?

After a long absence, Naisarani returned from injury to take his place in the starting side and the Wallabies' World Cup back-rower made an immediate impact.

Not only did he play 80-plus minute - bar the 10 he served in the bin for slowing the ball down - but his work-rate was once again high.

He got over the ball in the first-half to win a penalty for his side and his try at the end showed his willingness to carry the ball.

In recent weeks the No.8 conversation has all been about Harry Wilson and Pete Samu, well, Naisarani once again reminded Australian selectors of his credentials.

Making the match-winning try all the more special was that it was the Fijian's 50th Super Rugby match since debuting under Wessels at the Force back in 2017.

His long-time coach paid tribute to the Fijian's softly spoken humility and labelled him the best back-rower in Australia.

"I just said in the change-room then to the boys that I can remember when Isi and his aunty came into my office in Perth three years ago and we were privileged to walk 50 games with him," Wessels said.

"He's obviously a helluva player but you couldn't meet a more humble, hardworking guy and (I'm) really proud of him. In typical fashion the first thing he did when he said a few words was he thanked the staff, which just shows real humility about him.

"To me, he's the best back-rower in Australia at the moment, and I think he proved that again tonight."