The Melbourne Rebels have overcome a red card to centre Ray Nu'u to post a gutsy 22-21 win over Western Force at HBF Park in Perth.

The Rebels led 16-5 at halftime of Friday night's match, but the margin had been cut back to one point by the time Nu'u was given his marching orders in the 52nd minute for a high tackle.

The Force took the lead during the early stages of the 20-minute red card period and appeared destined for victory, but clutch penalties to Matt To'omua and Reece Hodge while the Rebels were down a man were enough to lift the visitors to their second win in a row.

The Force have now lost consecutive games by one point, with the players devastated not to come away with a win in the first match since coach Tim Sampson was told he wouldn't have his contract renewed.

"Absolutely devastated with that one," stand-in Force skipper Kyle Godwin told Stan Sport.

"That one really cut us deep. It's a bitter pill to swallow."

The Rebels' second win of the season keeps them in the hunt for a top-eight berth.

"I couldn't be prouder of the group," Rebels captain Michael Wells said.

"We just showed resilience. It's exactly what we've been asking for. It's a tough win that can really put a trademark on our season."

The Force were scratchy early, committing four breakdown penalties in the first 12 minutes as well as coughing up two line-outs.

Melbourne scored the first try of the match in the sixth minute when To'omua kept his cool in a tackle to perfectly offload to a charging Jordan Uelese close to the line.

To'omua nailed the conversion and another two penalties to make it 13-0 after 20 minutes, and the Force's glut of ill-disciplined acts resulted in a yellow card to flanker Kane Koteka seven minutes later for not rolling away.

The Rebels not only failed to make the most of the numerical advantage, they conceded a try right at the end of the 10-minute period when Fijian flyer Manasa Mataele contorted his body while in the air to touch down in the corner.

To'omua was handed a yellow card for a high tackle on prop Harry Lloyd in the lead-up to the try, but a penalty to Hodge after the halftime siren gave the visitors a 16-5 lead at the break.

It took just 15 minutes after the restart for the Force to snare the lead.

A fumble from Hodge after Jake Strachan had dribbled a ball into the in-goal area allowed Kyle Godwin to burst through and touch down.

Force winger Brad Lacey crossed in the 47th minute to cut the margin to one point, and the home side hit the lead shortly after Nu'u was red carded.

But the Rebels' scrum dominance while down a man proved the difference, with long-range penalties to To'omua and Hodge getting them over the line.

Rebels 22 (Tries: Uelese Cons: To'omua 1/1 Pens: To'omua 3/4, Hodge 2/2) Force 21 (Tries: Mataele, Godwin, Lacey Cons: Prior 0/3 Pens: Prior 1/1, Strachan 1/1) H/T 16-5

FORCE: 15. Jake Strachan, 14. Byron Ralston, 13. Kyle Godwin (c), 12. Bayley Kuenzle, 11. Manasa Mataele, 10. Reesjan Pasitoa, 9. Ian Prior, 8. Brynard Stander, 7. Kane Koteka, 6. Tim Anstee, 5. Fergus Lee-Warner, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 3. Santiago Medrano, 2. Andrew Ready, 1. Harrison Lloyd

Replacements: 16. Feleti Kaitu'u, 17. Bo Abra, 18. Greg Holmes, 19. Will Sankey 20. Ollie Callan, 21. Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22. Jake McIntyre, 23. Reece Tapine

REBELS: 15. Reece Hodge, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 13. Stacey Ili, 12. Raymond Nu'u, 11. Glen Vaihu, 10. Matt To'omua, 9. James Tuttle, 8. Michael Wells (c), 7. Richard Hardwick, 6. Brad Wilkin, 5. Josh Canham, 4. Matt Philip, 3. Cabous Eloff, 2. Jordan Uelese, 1. Matt Gibbon

Replacements: 16. James Hanson, 17. Cameron Orr, 18. Rhys van Nek, 19. Josh Hill, 20. Sam Wallis, 21. Joe Powell, 22. Carter Gordon, 23. George Worth

Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper, Jordan Kaminski