The Melbourne Rebels struck the first blow of Vodacom Super Rugby in 2013, as they defeated the Western Force 30-23 on Friday to open the competition.
With the Australian sides starting a week earlier than the rest of the competition, both sides looked sharp but paid for indiscretions as they went toe to toe and slugged it out for the 80 minutes.
But after a slow start, the Rebels took control of the game, as the Force paid for their indiscipline and were reduced to 13 men at one stage, and allowed the home side to take control of the match.
After Kyle Godwin put them up by six after two penalties in the first 20 minutes, it was Alfi Mafi who scored the first of his two tries – thanks to a yellow card for punching by Scott Higginbotham that reduced the Rebels to 14 – as the winger found space on the outside to go in at the corner.
At 11-0 up the home side looked like they were struggling to get into the game, but back with 15 on the park their fortunes started to turn as they managed to get some momentum going forward for the first time in the match.
It took a critical driving maul from the Force, with Higginbotham in the middle and Ged Robinson directing from the back to power their way over the line for their first try of the match.
A penalty from James O’Connor, sporting the latest in a series of bizarre hairstyles, made it 11-10 to the visitors at the halftime break.
The Rebels struck first in the second half, where a move wide saw a beauty of a step by Richard Kingi, before he outdid himself with an inside flip to lock to Hugh Pyle to run in untouched for the try.
The Force struck back almost immediately through Mafi again, as a scrum went blind and the winger had too much space and pace in the corner to be stopped.
However, the Rebels then took hold of the game as a brain explosion robbed the Force of two of their players.
First Chris Alcock was carded for a forearm to the face of an opposition player and then Albie Matthewson joined him in the bin for off-the-ball pushing and shoving, reducing the Force to 13 men.
It didn’t take long for the Rebels to exploit this and Kingi grabbed his second in the corner after a nice weighted pass from O’Connor to put the game beyond the Force.
The visitors did come back to worry the home side with a late try to Richard Brown, but as the clock ticked down, reserve flyhalf Sias Ebersohn kicked away some good ball and they simply ran out of options.
Rebels – Tries: Ged Robinson, Hugh Pyle, Richard Kingi. Conversions: James O'Connor (3). Penalties: O'Connor (3).
Force – Tries: Alfi Mafi (2), Richard Brown. Conversion: Kyle Godwin. Penalties: Godwin (2).