Melbourne Rebels debutant Reece Hodge bagged two tries to inspire his side to a 25-19 win over the Western Force in Saturday night’s Super Rugby clash at nib Stadium.
The Rebels lost flyhalf Jack Debreczeni before the match, and his replacement Mike Harris lasted just 31 minutes before limping off.
The double blow forced winger Hodge into the key playmaker role at times, and the 22-year-old responded with a try in each half and an important sideline conversion.
Centre Tamati Ellison set up both of Hodge’s tries with some excellent lead-up work.
The Force promised to unleash a new attacking game style, and they duly delivered.
But a host of handling errors and turnovers cost them the chance to do much damage.
New recruit Jono Lance scored all of the Force’s points with a try, a conversion, and four penalties.
But it was the Rebels who looked the more dangerous when camped inside their opponent’s 22.
The first 25 minutes made for ugly rugby as simple errors and penalties dominated play, with both sides struck down by key injuries as the half progressed.
The exit of Harris forced another reshuffle for the Rebels, while Force skipper Matt Hodgson was forced off under the blood rule after receiving a nasty gash to his head.
Hodge scored the opener in the 31st minute after Ellison sliced his way through two Force defenders.
The Force regained the lead when Lance crashed over in the 35th minute, but the Rebels hit back on the stroke of half-time when flanker Adam Thomson touched down in the corner.
Force centre Kyle Godwin was struck down by a leg injury early in the second half, and several of his teammates started to cramp up on a hot, muggy night in Perth.
The errors continued to flow for both sides, but the Force closed the margin to just one point when Lance nailed a penalty in the 60th minute.
However, Hodge ensured his side had the last laugh with his 63rd-minute try.