Another chapter in the intense rivalry between the Emirates Western Force and Melbourne Rebels was written at nib Stadium on Sunday afternoon as the Victorians snuck home in a one point thriller.
For the third time in four matches between these sides the result was decided by a point, this time it was Kurtley Beale who would have the final say when his penalty attempt sailed through in the 77th minute to give his side the narrowest of advantages.
The thrilling finish was set-up after a spirited fight back by the Emirates Western Force in the second half after letting the Rebels plunder four tries to two in the opening 40 minutes that had the West Aussies trailing by 11 points at the break.
The home side tightened their defence to deny the Rebels any additional five pointers while scoring one of their own to keep the contest close and eventually take the lead in the 74th minute courtesy of a long range penalty by flyhalf Ben Seymour.
That was the first time the Emirates Western Force had been in the lead and it appeared that they had timed it well as the final hooter loomed however a scrum penalty late in the game handed Beale an opportunity and he delivered.
“It was a game of two halves as they say. We certainly didn’t get off to the start that we wanted to and that put us on the back foot,” Emirates Western Force Skills & Defence Coach Phil Blake said in review.
“We addressed a few things at the break and the second half was much more committed, our attack at times was really asking questions of the defence and we clawed our way back into the game where we were in a position at the back end of the half to be in front.
“We are not looking at the last incident in isolation. We’re looking at the whole 80 minutes, a lot of things contributed to that loss, it wasn’t just the penalty at the end. We’re copping it as a team and we understand that we need to start a lot better than what we did today.”
In what was eerily like their first meeting this season the Melbourne Rebels made the most of the early going and finished the opening half with a four try bonus point in their back pockets.
All four of the Rebels tries came courtesy of some lax defence by the Emirates Western Force backs, particularly down the left hand wing where three of Melbourne’s tries were scored.
The first came after just three minutes had elapsed as lock Cadeyrn Neville cut inside a stagnant defence to dive between the posts.
The Rebels were celebrating a second try within the opening quarter of the game when a great run down the right flank by Mark Gerrard earned them excellent attacking position and Kurtley Beale’s willingness to spin the ball wide saw the pill eventually end up in Gareth Delve’s hands and he touched down in the left corner.
The next 20 minutes saw a more even spread of scoring as the Emirates Western Force joined in on the action to score two tries, although their porous defence allowed another two to the visitors also.
The Emirates Western Force had their first try when marquee winger Napolioni Nalaga showed his strength to put the finishing touches to a great attacking phase. After a frustrating run with injury it was great to see Nalaga in full flight as he had some important touches throughout the game, none more so than the try which injected some confidence back into the home side.
The conversion unfortunately wasn’t forthcoming as David Harvey’s kick bounced off the goal post, the second time in the match he had hit the upright following an earlier penalty attempt.
Next it was the Rebels turn on attack and that left corner was again their target as Neville secured his second of the afternoon as the speed and width of the visitors attack troubled the West Aussies.
Staring down a 13 point deficit the Emirates Western Force worked to pull back the margin and they were close to their second try when returning centre Will Tupou made a blistering run to be pulled up just short of the try line. Ben McCalman though finished the job with a typically bullocking effort from a few meters out and this time Harvey’s conversion was good.
The home fans though didn’t have much time to celebrate as Melbourne hit back through Cooper Vuna, and again it was down the left wing they found success to extend their lead to 11 at the break.
Alfie Mafi’s introduction into the game for the Emirates Western Force made a significant impact and he gave the home side the dream start to the second half when he picked a gap in the Rebels defence to score five minutes after the restart.
A successful conversion to Seymour and long range penalty by Brett Sheehan in the 59th minute had the Emirates Western Force just a point behind and a nail biting final 20 minutes ensued.
The Rebels gave themselves some breathing space when Beale kicked truly just a short time later however Seymour, starting just his second game in the 10 jersey, held his nerve to score back to back penalties and earn the lead for the home side.
However it wasn’t to be the Emirates Western Force’s day and for a second time in as many visits to Perth the Victorians left with a one point win.
“We’re very disappointed as a group,” Emirates Western Force captain David Pocock said.
“While you saw the character of the group to get ourselves back in the game we just missed too many opportunities.
“Missing simple tackles which then lead to tries it makes it very hard to build any pressure and that is something that is going to have to improve.
“In saying that there were some positive signs, I thought Ben Seymour did a great job at 10. We have things to work on ahead of our game next Saturday night here at home and we’ll do that during the week and turn up well prepared for a big performance,” Pocock concluded.