Force edge Perth 'final'
SUPER RUGBY MATCH REPORT: The Western Force won on the scoreboard, but it was a show of collective force by the players in Perth on Friday.
For the record: The Force beat the Rebels 31-22 in what could be the last time the two franchises meet on a rugby field.
However, it is in the boardroom where these players stand strong - with the Australian Rugby Union's decision on which one of the two will be axed to be announced in a matter of weeks.
In a show of solidarity from two playing groups who understand exactly the uncertainty the other is facing, the Force and Rebels walked out together before the match to the tune of Dire Strait's classic Brothers in Arms.
Then they stood together in a circle after the match, encouraging each other to remain united in their battle with the ARU.
In between they battered each other for 80 brutal minutes.
It might not be enough, but the Force certainly stated their case for retention in the Super Rugby.
The match pitted the two teams on Super Rugby's death row against each other and it was always going to be an emotional encounter with pride on the line.
Either the Force or Rebels were playing their penultimate match as both were already out of play-off contention.
Following the SARU's decision to axe the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, the ARU is expected to announce which Australian side will be cut shortly after the conclusion of the Super Rugby season.
Despite a double to flying Rebels wing Marika Koroibete, it was the Force who were the better side on the night, dominating territory for much of the game and running in four tries to three to claim their fifth win of the season.
The Rebels have just one win this year and paid the price for allowing two Force tries in quick succession early in the second half.
Koroibete's two dashing runs enabled the Rebels to lead 15-14 at the break, despite Force tries to Bill Meakes and stand-in captain Adam Coleman.
The game turned early in the second half, when the Force surged in a 10-minute burst.
The home side was denied a try in the 44th minute when the video official spotted hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau's knock-on after the Rebels' Tom Banks lost the ball close to the try line.
In the 49th minute, Richard Hardwick spun over from close range after 12 phases as the Force took a 24-15 lead.
Just three minutes later, a long pass from Dane Haylett-Penny found a charging Chance Peni, who fended off a defender as the Force made it 31-15 in their favour.
Colby Fainga'a kept the Rebels in touch when he sliced through a gap for his first try in the 58th minute.
Reece Hodge had a long-range chance to drag his side back to within a converted try in the 69th minute, but pushed it just wide and that virtually spelled the end for the Rebels, as their frustration started to show and tempers flared.
The end of the match could have not been more contrasting to the start, with the two sides involved in a sideline melee after the final play.
However, they soon came together again and formed a circle as injured Force skipper Matt Hodgson addressed the two playing groups.
Stand-in Force captain Adam Coleman said his side improved markedly after the break.
"In the first half we really lacked continuity," he said.
"In the second half we built a little bit more pressure and were able to get some more tries out of that.
"We talked about it at half-time and we fixed it."
Rebels skipper Nic Stirzaker lamented his team's poor start to the second half.
"That 10 minutes after half-time we slipped off a few tackles and were camped in our own half," he said.
"The Force were able to capitalise."
In the final round next weekend, the Rebels host the Jaguares on Friday, while the Force are at home to the Waratahs on Saturday.
Man of the match: For the Rebels there was Marika Koroibete with his powerful bursts, Reece Hodge as the steadying influence and Amanaki Mafi with his high workrate on defence and strong running. The Western Force's best players were big No.8 Isi Naisarani, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau - both for their energetic performances - and our Man of the Match, captain Adam Coleman, who was the man that stoked the fire when he needed to get his team's energy levels up and the calming influence when it appeared they would lose their way.
For the Western Force:
Tries: Meakes, Coleman, Hardwick, Peni
Cons: Grant 4
For the Rebels:
Tries: Koroibete 2, Fainga'a
Cons: Hodge 2
Yellow card: Chance Peni (Western Force, 6 - foul play, shoulder charge to the head)
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman (captain), 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Jono Lance, 23 James Verity-Amm.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (captain), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 6 Lopeti Timani, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Fereti Sa'aga, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Jack Maddocks
Referee: William Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)