Australian leader’s finals hopes take a big hit with below-par display.
The Melbourne Rebels put a big dent in the New South Wales Waratahs’ Super 15 playoff hopes with a resilient 24-22 home victory on Friday.
The Rebels came from 16-13 down to beat the better-resourced Waratahs for the first time in their six encounters and claim their second big scalp in as many weeks after upsetting South Africa’s Western Stormers 30-21.
Winger Tom English was the two-try hero with his second effort clinching victory for the Rebels five minutes from fulltime.
The Waratahs, who came into the match after winning their past three games, had a chance to win but replacement back Brendan McKibbin narrowly missed a penalty goal attempt in the final minutes.
It was Melbourne’s fourth win of the season and leaves them them seven points behind the third-placed Waratahs in the Australian conference.
The Rebels began bullishly, with English finishing off a passing rush following a turnover win in the 10th minute.
But the Waratahs hit back near halftime when new Wallaby selection Israel Folau latched onto Lachlan Mitchell’s risky pass close to the Rebels try-line to score an intercept and his eighth try in his first Super Rugby season since switching from rugby league.
Berrick Barnes was in immaculate goalkicking touch, landing a conversion and four penalties from as many attempts to have the Waratahs in front 19-13 shortly after halftime.
But the dogged Rebels, minus their big names James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, kept working hard and drew level at 19-19 off two Jason Woodward penalties.
McKibbin put the Waratahs in front with a penalty but the Rebels got the winning break with English’s second try after a line break from Woodward.
“That was an extremely tough game, and I am absolutely rapt with how the boys held on there,” Rebels’ skipper Scott Higginbotham said.
“Our defence has improved in leaps and bounds since the start of the season, so we’re very proud of that.”
Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis blamed a poor attitude by his team for the defeat.
“We didn’t have the right attitude going into the game and it showed. The first half we were poor and discipline in the second half hurt us as well, it was a really disappointing result,” Dennis said.
“We came down here probably thinking everything was going to happen for us. We had had a couple of good wins and we thought things would flow on from that.”
The Rebels have another Australian derby against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane next week, while the Waratahs face the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch.