The Brumbies have survived a late Rebels flurry to take a 31-23 win in their Super Rugby AU opener.
After a 5-1 start in Super Rugby earlier this year, the Brumbies came into the new tournament with all the expectation on them and early on it appeared they would easily live up to that billing.
The hosts held a 24-6 lead midway through the second half before two quick Rebels tries and a Matt To’omua penalty kick made the margin just one point with 10 minutes to go.
A crooked lineout throw from Rebels debutant Efi Maafu gave the Brumbies late possession and when they had the opportunity, they went to the maul and flanker Will Miller sealed the victory.
Saturday’s match wasn’t as frenetic for much of the night as Friday night’s Reds-Waratahs clash but the intensity grew as the game went on.
In some ways, the performances threw up suprises as the Rebels dominated in the scrum but struggled to unleash their star-studded attack.
To’omua kept Melbourne in the game with some penalties in the early stages and produced a solid 100th outing.
On the other hand, the Brumbies had little issue opening up opportunities for their outside backs with Tom Wright and Andy Muirhead kicking off each half with a try.
While their scrum battled, their lineout laid the foundations for two of their three unanswered first half tries – a Muirhead running score and a Joe Powell dart off a maul.
The Rebels gave away some early penalties and the Brumbies took less than three minutes to make the most of it.
Winger Muirhead sped through off the back of the ACT lineout, snapping up an inside ball from Folau Fainga’a to score.
The Rebels looked straight to the posts with their first penalty opportunity and Matt To’omua slotted it with ease on his old stomping ground.
Somewhat unexpectedly it was the Rebels who had the early advantage at scrum time, forcing four scrum penalties in the opening 20 minutes and To’omua took the points at every kickable opportunity.
Less unexpectedly, the Brumbies found their second score through halfback Joe Powell off the back of a powerful driving maul.
It was the Rebels who let their discipline slip as the first half ticked on, gifting the Brumbies some territory.
Hooker Folau Fainga’a crashed over the line, bursting through a hole in Melbourne’s defence to give the Brumbies their third try of the first half.
It took just three minutes for Tom Wright to add another for the Brumbies in the second half finishing off a superb Noah Lolesio break.
The Rebels had their own maul try in the 58th minute, pushing their way over from beyond the five-metre line for a Jordan Uelese score.
Five minutes later, Dane Haylett-Petty strolled over the line in open space after the Rebels had peppered the Brumbies’ defence for multiple phases.
Uelese was left to rue a crooked lineout throw before a Matt Philip mistake opened up the chance for the Brumbies
It looked as though the Rebels might be able to steal the victory but Maafu’s crooked throw gave the ACT side the final posessions and Miller iced the result.
A head clash between Tom Cusack and Folau Fainga’a force both forwards off before he 60-minute mark.