Rebels live dangerously against fiery Sunwolves
Sometimes you just take the win against a dangerously enigmatic opposition and move on.
The Melbourne Rebels were lucky they were playing the last-placed Sunwolves because a similar performance against a competition front-runner, as they hope to be, wouldn't have resulted in a 42-15 win.
Some flash with the football at AAMI Park, and absolute dominance at the line-out, enabled the Rebels to capitalise on the Sunwolves erratic efforts in attack and defence and run in six tries to two.
But the difference between the teams could have been greater if not for some sloppy defence - 24 missed tackles - and a lot of ill-discipline from the home team which allowed the Japanese visitors to stay in a game they never really looked like winning.
A barren 25 minutes in the second half for the Rebels, as the inventive opposition took the game on with a gusto the Rebels struggled to match, gave the tourists some hope, despite a significant stop-start feel as Melbourne continued to infringe.
But against the run of play a desperate charge-down from Rebels fullback Reece Hodge resulted in a personal hattrick and locked up a bonus point win for the home team which has skipped away from the rest of the Australian conference with a 5-2 win-loss record.
"There were definitely things in the game we didn't do right technically or tactically, but just from an attitude point of view I thought we were 100 per cent in the right place", Rebels coach Dave Wessels said after the match.
"We are challenging ourselves to be a championship team at some point, and that's what championship teams can do, despite long travel schedules and all different things you can still rock up physically and mentally and we did that.
"They play a bit of all or nothing rugby … that's the nature of the game when you play them. Had they scored in that period after half-time it could have been a different game. In the pats we would let some soft moments creep in to our game at that point, but we threw bodies under the ball we held them up and we managed to get out of there and survive that part of that game which proved to be pivotal. That's the resilience we are building as a team in those tough moments."
Reece Hodge started the season as the leading try-scorer in Rebels history. But he started the clash with the Sunwolves two behind the club's most capped player, Tom English. He's crossed the stripe five times this season to take a two-try lead. But within 15 minutes Hodge had caught him courtesy of an early double, the second coming after a feed from English, clearly not worried about his own stats. Hodge then took the title solo in the second half with a charge down try, against the run of play, to secure his third for the night and nail the win.
BIG MEN FLY
A huge turnaround at Melbourne this season has been the performance of the line-out, helped in a massive way by giants in the Rebels back row. They were the fourth best performed team in Super Rugby at line-out time and proceeded to dominate the Japanese team. There were 23 line outs and the Rebels won 17 of them, including six against the throw. Melbourne's 206cm lock Adam Coleman was proving hard to pass, with 199cm Matt Philip and 196cm Luke Jones also making their presence felt.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
When the Rebels were on the wrong end of a 20-1 penalty count in South Africa, one of the most lop-sided results in competition history, they asked officials what they were doing wrong. They were told "not much", but haven't learned. They conceded a 17-5 penalty count against the Sunwolves, despite the massive win, continually penalised for being offside. The Rebels also copped two yellow cards in the last five minutes. They have the most this season, just like last year.