If ever there was evidence of the truth behind the old saying that it was a game of two halves, it came when the Rebels stormed back to beat the Brumbies 32-24 in a Vodacom Super Rugby match played in Melbourne on Friday.
Jason Woodward scored 27 points for the Rebels, who broke a four match losing sequence against fellow Australian sides. But it never looked like being the Rebels’ night when they trailed 17-6 early in the second half, and it was really a strong burst from the Rebels in the latter stages of the second half that propelled the home team to a win that looked highly unlikely for most of the way.
Indeed, when Jesse Mogg went over for the first Brumbies try after just three minutes, it looked as though the pre-match installation of the Brumbies as strong favourites to win would be comprehensively vindicated.
The try included all the hallmarks of what makes the Brumbies log leaders in the Australia conference, with the Canberra team scrumming the Rebels for several metres before the ball was released to the back and a scissors movement put fullback Mogg into the space that he needed to go over without being touched.
Perhaps the Brumbies thought they had the game in their back pocket already, for after that they struggled to impose their structure on proceedings, and the spoiling of the Rebels ensured that no further tries were scored in the first half. Instead the Rebels fought back by kicking a penalty through Woodward to make it 7-3 a minute after the try was scored, but later in the half Nic White kicked a penalty to make it 10-3 at halftime.
The Rebels kicked a penalty soon after the restart to make it 10-6, but the dominant Brumbies scrum – up to that point anyway – got the measure of their opponents by forcing a penalty try in the 47th minute that stretched the Brumbies lead to 11.
That was when the Brumbies appeared to go to sleep, with the highly physical Rebels getting stuck into them at the breakdowns, and the game momentum swinging quickly towards the visitors. Even in the scrums the Brumbies lost their previous assurance, and it really did look as if the players had just switched off.
Indeed, it wasn’t until there were three minutes to go that the Brumbies looked like they might be awake again and it wasn't until then that they added further to their score, with Robbie Coleman gathering a chip kick and going over between the posts.
But between their penalty try and that score the Rebels had scored 23 unanswered points against them in the space of not much more than 20 minutes. The Brumbies weren’t helped by having Scott Fardy sinbinned for a misdemeanor at a breakdown, and the Rebels fully capitalised on the period that the Brumbies were down to 14 men.
Not that the turn-around coincided with the yellow card. That preceded the 64th minute card by 14 minutes, with Woodward kicking a penalty in the 50th, another in the 55th, and then scoring a try that he himself converted eight minutes later as the Rebels took the lead for the first time.
So the Rebels were leading 19-17 when Fardy was sent for his 10 minute rest, with referee Jaco Peyper awarding a penalty that Woodward kicked to extend the lead to five points. The Rebels were completely dominant when they had an advantage in numbers and it came as no surprise when Mitch Inman burst over a big hole after a sustained build-up to make it 29-17 with 10 minutes to go.
The Brumbies fought back through the Coleman try, Matt Toomua quickly slotting a drop kick conversion to spark faint flickers hope for the Brumbies, who were finishing strongly. Any thoughts of another come from behind win like the one scored by the Lions against the Reds last week were extinguished though when Peyper adjudged the Brumbies to have infringed at the breakdown beneath their posts and Woodward made the game safe with his sixth successful penalty kick on a night where he just couldn’t miss.
REBELS – Tries: Mitch Inman and Jason Woodward; Conversions: Jason Woodward 2; Penalties: Jason Woodward 6.
BRUMBIES – Tries: Jesse Mogg and Robbie Coleman; Penalty try; Conversions: Nic White 2 and Matt Toomua; Penalty: Nic White.