Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor scored a try and kicked five penalties and two conversions for 24 points to lead the Melbourne Rebels to a 34-23 win over the Auckland Blues on Thursday to open the seventh round of Super 15 rugby.
Both teams went into the match looking for their second win of the season in six matches but the Rebels came out on top despite Auckland having the earliest attacking opportunities.
Flanker Chris Lowrey scored a try with three minutes left to leave Auckland trailing 27-23, before a last-minute try by captain Gareth Delve clinched the match for the Rebels.
The win moved Melbourne from last place to second in the tight Australian conference while the Blues, favoured to be among the leaders at the beginning of the season, remained in last place in the New Zealand conference, six points behind fourth-place Wellington.
Fullback Kurtley Beale scored a first-half try against the run of play when it appeared the Blues would score after stringing together 15 phases.
But Melbourne’s defence held firm and when Blues No. 8 Brad Mika tried to push a pass with teammates lined up outside him, Beale pounced on the ball and ran 80 metres to the opposite try line.
Successful penalty kicks from O’Connor and Blues scrumhalf Gareth Anscombe left the score 11-9 for the Rebels at half-time.
Pushing for advantage
Auckland took the lead two minutes into the second half when winger Rene Ranger tiptoed down the side-line and got a ball away to fullback Rudi Wolf to score, with Anscombe’s conversion pushing the advantage to 16-11.
Two penalties by O’Connor gave his side a one-point lead and then man-of-the-match O’Connor got a try of his own, running on to a ball from hooker Ged Robinson.
Prop Laurie Weeks suffered a shoulder injury for the Rebels while hooker Adam Freier was forced off after just 10 minutes with a calf problem.
Blues coach Pat Lam lamented his team’s poor ball control which undid the good work in the set piece.
“We just couldn’t maintain pressure,” Lam said. “Credit to the Rebels because they kept coming at us, particularly in that last 20 minutes.”
Melbourne coach Damien Hill said his team didn’t panic despite losing the lead early in the second half.
“We came off at half-time leading, but we were frustrated with the way we were playing,” Hill said. “Then to concede a try early in the second half, things could have gone south very quickly. It’s a credit to Delvey [Gareth Delve] and the team and to our defence.” — Sapa-AP