The Rebels staved off a fightback from the Highlanders to claim a 24-19 win in Melbourne on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Considering that the Brumbies claimed an emphatic 54-17 victory over the Chiefs last weekend, this will serve as another boost for Australian rugby.
As it is, the Highlanders had won six of their last seven matches against Rebels, with their only previous defeat to the Melbourne-based team coming in July 2013. However, the Rebels managed to defy that record and claim their first win over a New Zealand opponent since 2015.
Early in the second half the Rebels enjoyed a 12-point lead and looked well in control, but they had to display plenty of defensive gumption to ultimately hold off a late surge from the Landers.
The Highlanders enjoyed as much as 75% of possession in the opening quarter, and after controlling the majority of the early proceedings, the visitors established a handy 12-7 lead, with Shannon Frizell and Sam Talakai both going over for well-worked tries.
Nevertheless, the Rebels looked dangerous almost every time they managed to hold on to possession – and a beautiful offload in the tackle from Quade Cooper allowed Jack Maddocks to go over for a simple try, while suddenly sending his side into a 14-12 lead against the run of play.
It was clear that the Rebels were aiming to target the breakdown, and after winning another turnover, Tom English was next sent away for his second try. At the 30-minute mark, the Highlanders would have looked at the scoreboard and wondered how on earth they were trailing by seven points.
It signified a complete shift in momentum. Early on in the second half the Rebels took further control when Cooper turned provider once again as he put in a neat grubber kick that sat up nicely for Billy Meakes to score.
From there the Highlanders were always going to be up against it, but they cut the deficit back to five points when big lock Jackson Hemopo powered over the tryline in the 64th minute, and it provided an immediate injection of belief.
The Landers kept pressing in the latter stages of the clash, and looked as if they might steal the result at the death, but Frizell knocked the ball on over the line.
Rebels – Tries: Tom English (2), Jack Maddocks, Billy Meakes. Conversions: Quade Cooper (2).
Highlanders – Tries: Shannon Frizell, Sam Talakai, Jackson Hemopo. Conversions: Bryn Gatland, Marty Banks.
Rebels – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetra Faulkner.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Rob Leota, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Reece Hodge.
Highlanders – 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Josh McKay, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Pari Pari Parkinson, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ricky Jackson, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Patelesio Tomkinson, 23 Marty Banks.
Photo: Mike Owen/Getty Images