The Melbourne Rebels pulled off an impressive victory on Friday morning when they beat the Highlanders 28-22 in Dunedin, writes ANDRE HUISAMEN.
Both teams were hoping to get back to winning ways after suffering defeats last weekend.
It was the visitors, who surprisingly flew out of the blocks in the first half-hour of the match, scoring three unanswered tries to race to a 21-0 lead.
Inside centre Bill Meakes scored the opener after a brilliant offload by Matt To’omua. The flyhallf was causing the Highlanders all sorts of problems with his attacking display and it let to another Rebels penalty in the home side’s half.
Instead of going for the easy three points, the Melbourne outfit set up a five metre lineout, which they executed to absolute perfection, leading to an easy dive over for hooker Anaru Rangi from the back of a dominant maul.
And, three minutes later, they were in again when winger Andrew Kellaway pounced on an error by Josh Ioane to sprint to the tryline from within his own half.
The Highlanders were struggling to get into their rhythm but they finally crossed for their first try when good hands by the backline sent winger Josh McKay over. They were dealt a massive blow, however, when their skipper James Lentjes was stretchered off the field with an ankle injury.
Aaron Smith then rounded off a brilliant try on the stroke of halftime after great offloading by prop Siate Tokolahi and lock Jesse Parete sent the scrumhalf over as the Highlanders started to fight back.
😎 Draw two men and casually flick a no look pass for @Te_Nug to score…ain’t no thing for Jesse Parete. What a boss.
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) February 28, 2020
It meant the Rebels took a 21-14 lead into the break but they extended that advantage shortly after the interval when Kellaway snatched an intercept to run in for another breakaway try.
The Highlanders, though, were determined to break the Rebels defence, which stood firm for a long period of try but the pressure eventually told after a number of phases led to replacement Scott Gregory diving over in the corner.
Gregory went from hero to villain, however, when he copped a yellow card for playing a Rebels player in the air but try-scorer Meakes was also sent off for 10 minutes for an illegal infringement at the ruck as both sides went down to 14 players.
Ioane added the vital three points for the Highlanders as a result which saw the Rebels lead 28-22 with ten minute left to play.
The 2015 champions threw everything at the Rebels in the final moments of the match but another yellow card, this time for Jona Nareki, all but gifted the result to the Australians as the hung on for a big victory.
Highlanders: Josh McKay, Aaron Smith, Scott Gregory. Conversions: Josh Ioane (2). Penalty: Ioane
Rebels: Tries: Bill Meakes, Anaru Rangi, Andrew Kellaway (2). Conversions: Matt To’omua (4)
Highlanders – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Rob Thompson, 12, Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marion Michaele Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes (c), 6 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Jesse Parete, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 9 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Scott Gregory.
Rebels – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Subs: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Cabous Eloff, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Frank Lomani, 22 Michael Wells, 23 Andrew Deegan.
Photo: Teaukura Moetaua/Getty Images