The Melbourne Rebels recorded a 30-23 victory over a Western Force side that was reduced to 13 men at one stage in their Super Rugby opener on Friday.
Super Rugby has started and it started well in Melbourne - better for the Rebels but heartening for both sides and promising for the whole competition.
There were 11 902 spectators to see the match.
It was a lively match and after a diet of Northern rugby it was good to see a field that did not cut up, scrums that worked and lots more passing than kicking. There were six tries - three each - in a match that either side could have won.
In fact the first 25 minutes suggested that the Force would run away with the match, They dominated possession, territory and points. In fact it seemed unjust that they were leading only 11-0. But then the Rebels started to get possession, some of it a present from the Force who donated four of their line-outs to the home side. The Rebels got their discipline under control after a string of early penalties. The improvement for the Rebels was marked and in the next quarter of an hour they scored 17 points to nil.
There were firsts. Sam Christie, chosen at flyhalf ahead of Sias Ebersohn, kicked off to start the first Super Rugby match of 2013. Young Kyle Godwin scored the first points with a penalty goal. Scott Higginbotham got the first yellow card. Alfie Mafi scored the first try. James O'Connor with a silly hairdo in aid of charity kicked the first conversion. The Rebels won the first match.
The Force started off going through many phases which ended with a penalty, but Godwin missed. They went through phases again which ended with a penalty and this time Godwin goaled. 3-0 after 6 minutes.
The Force, whose handling was slick and sharp, went through 14 phases which ended with a penalty at a tackle against Higginbotham and a yellow card for Higginbotham for punching, a decision which he thought unjust. Godwin goaled. 6-0 after 22 minutes.
Back came the Force as Alby Mathewson, making his debut for the Force, broke on a long break, Winston Stanley chipped and Sam Wykes was held up over the line. From the five-metre scrum the Force bashed and then went wide left to Mafi who scored. 11-0 after 26 minutes. It was 24 minutes before the Force scored again as the Rebels got going.
A burst by hooker Jed Robinson signalled their new-found resolve. They then won a Force line-out and Gareth Delve charged ahead. O'Connor was sharp and Higginbotham came back. The Rebels made a penalty into a five-metre line-out, mauled and Robinson got the touch down. O'Connor converted. 11-7 after 32 minutes,.
Just before half-time Tetera Faulkner was penalised at a tackle and O'Connor goaled to make the score just 11-10 at the break.
The Force came close right at the start of the second half but Nick Phipps saved, conceding a five-metre scrum. The Force bashed, the Rebels were penalised and the Force opted for another five-metre scrum, but they made a mess of it and the Rebels broke out.
The Force ran with the ball but the Rebels counterrucked to win a turnover off Christie. They went wide right where Richard Kingi did some high stepping, drawing three defenders onto him. When it seemed inevitable that he would be forced into touch he managed a pass from under his armpit infield to Hugh Pyle who, unmarked, ran over for the try. 17-11 to the Rebels after 46 minutes. They did not lose their lead.
But the Force threatened it. They went left off a scrum, Ben McCalman playing to Christie and somehow Mafi had an overlap and went over in the corner. 17-16 after 50 minutes.
The Force were setting up an attack when Kurtley Beale intercepted and Angus Cottrell was penalised for going in at the side. 20-16 after 52 minutes.
Chris Alcock was found to be fighting and was sent to the sin bin, as had happened to Higginbotham in the first half. As was the case with Higginbotham, he found the sanction unjust.
After an hour of the match the Rebels had their first put-in to a scrum and it was a five-metre scrum.They bashed and were held up, producing another five-metre scrum. They bashed again and the Force were penalised. Phipps went to take a quick tap, Mathewson played him to stop him doing so and the Force scrumhalf joined Alcock in the sin bin, leaving 13 Force players to defend.
Their defence was soon breached when the Rebels went wide right and Kingi scored with a swanky dive in the right corner. O'Connotr converted from touch. 27-16 after 63 minutes,
A penalty gave the Force a five-metre line-out. They bashed and then went wide in stages till the ball came to Richard Brown who scored near the posts. 27-23 with 11 minutes to play.
The Rebels did well off Beale's kick-off and goaled their second penalty when Kieran Longbottom and Phoenix Battye were penalised at tackle.
Sias Ebersohn, previously of the Cheetahs came on. With two minutes to go he got the ball twice and kicked it twice, which seemed a waste.
Man of the Match: James O'Connor, by quite some way. His skill, on attack and defence and his kicking out of hand and off the tee are exceptional.
For the Rebels:
Tries: Robinson, Pyle, Kingi
Cons: O'Connor 3
Pens: O'Connor 3
For the Force:
Tries: Mafi 2, Brown
Pens: Godwin 2
Yellow cards: Scott Higginbotham (Rebels, 22 - foul play), Chris Alcock (Western Force, 58 - foul play), Alby Mathewson (Western Force, 62 - foul play)
Melbourne Rebels: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Richard Kingi, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (captain) 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Cadeyrn Neville, 19 Jarrod Saffy, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Alex Rokobaro, 22 Tom English.
Western Force: 15 Will Tupou, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Sam Christie, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Toby Lynn, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan (captain).
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Mick Snowden, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Junior Rasolea.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Richard Goswell (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)