Melbourne returned to their bad old ways on Saturday, with flimsy defence handing the Blues a 36-30 win in their Super Rugby clash in Auckland.
In a game that pitted the top-placed Australian side against New Zealand’s bottom, it was the Rebels who looked like the battlers.
Melbourne’s defence was once their weakness and they wound back the clock with their worst effort of the year, missing 30 tackles, including 18 in the first half.
Surprisingly the Rebels had a chance to win the game, with late tries to Colby Fainga’a and Sefa Naivalu getting them to within striking distance with just over 10 minutes left.
They had a lineout five metres from the tryline with two minutes on the clock and attempted to drive the ball over but referee Craig Joubert penalised them for obstruction, ending their hopes.
Melbourne skipper Nic Stirzaker said the missed tackles proved their undoing.
“We showed plenty of spirit and fightback … but missed tackles in the first half really hurt us,” he said.
The Rebels started well, striking in the third minute when centre Reece Hodge pounced on the ball thrown back in-field by Blues hooker James Parsons, who tried to stop it going into touch.
Parsons, who took over his team’s captaincy this week, made amends 12 minutes later when he spun out of a tackle and dived over the line.
That try opened the floodgates for the home side, who scored a further three tries in the following 16 minutes.
Melbourne flanker Jordy Reid gave his side some credibility with a try just before halftime for a 24-18 deficit.
Their second half got off to the worst possible start with winger Tevita Li at the end of some quick Blues hands across the backline just two minutes in.
The score blew out to 36-18 before the Rebels mounted their fightback but fell agonisingly short.