SYDNEY – The Melbourne Rebels inflicted an unwanted record Saturday on hapless NSW Waratahs with a 36-25 victory to end their Super Rugby AU season in style.
The visitors ran in four-to-three tries at Bankwest Stadium to ensure the Waratahs finished with the ignominy of their first ever winless campaign in a contest that was essentially a dead rubber.
The Rebels’ finals dream ended Friday when the Western Force sealed third spot on the five-team ladder and booked a qualifying final clash with ACT Brumbies after a dramatic 30-27 victory over league leaders Queensland Reds.
The winner will play the Reds in the grand final in Brisbane.
Fourth-placed Rebels will rue a 16-15 home defeat to the Force in round 8, but savoured their third victory of the season.
“It was an odd preparation but we showed ticker and resilience,” Rebels stand-in captain Matt Toomua said.
“We have to figure out why we’re not in finals and have some honest conversations.”
Having become the fifth team in the competition’s history to go through a season winless, the Waratahs will ponder how things went so awry.
“We attacked really well for large periods of the game, but discipline has been an issue for us,” Waratahs captain Jake Gordon said.
“It’s been a tough year but we feel like in the last three weeks we have made improvements.”
An inability to score tries ultimately proved costly for the Rebels this season, who were highly competitive but narrowly fell short in numerous games.
With the pressure eased, the Rebels came out aggressively and scored a try in the opening minute when Stacey Ili crossed over.
The Rebels’ cavalier style was further rewarded when Michael Wells scythed through the lax Waratahs defence for a try.
Stacey Ili with our fastest try ever scored in Super Rugby history!
THIRTY-THREE SECONDS! 💥
🛡️ We lead 15 – 6 after 20 minutes. pic.twitter.com/a0EDlYnzIi
— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) April 24, 2021
But their momentum was halted when Isi Naisarani received a red card for a high hit on Max Douglas.
The Waratahs, who have been far more competitive since the recent firing of coach Rob Penney, capitalised on the Rebels being shorthanded for 20 minutes with tries to Mark Nawaqanitawase and Jake Maddocks.
Leading by just three points at half-time, the Rebels rediscovered their spark with Robert Leota driving through for a try in the 43rd minute and forced their ill-disciplined opponents into errors.
They resisted a late rally from the desperate Waratahs, who lost their eighth straight game.
Both teams will feature in the inaugural Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, which kicks off on May 14 and involves the professional teams from Australia and New Zealand.