Melbourne have put a tough month of Super Rugby behind them with a hard-fought win over the Western Force.
The Rebels went into Sunday’s AAMI Park clash on the back of three losses, which allowed the Brumbies and Waratahs to take control of the Australian conference.
But Melbourne managed to hold out the persistent Force 27-22 to go into the month-long Test break with their heads held high.
“The win was much-needed,” Rebels coach Tony McGahan said.
“It was really important for us to get the four points.
“The Force are always a tough opponent and they were right in it and we weren’t clinical enough to put them away properly but that’s the nature of these derbies.”
Despite their losing run, the Rebels were expected to dominate the struggling Force, who have managed only two wins for the season and were without injured workhorse skipper Matt Hodgson.
But the visitors made it a long afternoon for Melbourne, who only managed to break a 15-15 deadlock in the 59th minute.
Rebels winger Sefa Naivalu scored two second-half tries in his best showing of the season.
Melbourne’s attack plans were thrown into disarray early when five-eighth Mike Harris suffered a hamstring injury, which meant he didn’t fly to Queensland after the match to join the Wallabies squad for the England Test series.
Harris left the field immediately after setting up the Rebels’ first try by centre Reece Hodge, who set a club record of eight tries in a season despite missing three games through injury.
The Force hit back just four minutes later with a superb effort by Luke Morahan, who also scored in the second half.
The winger leapt above the Rebels to gather a kick down-field by five-eighth Peter Grant.
He chipped ahead, then managed to collect the ball and dive across in the corner.
That try gave the Force an 8-7 lead, which Hodge reclaimed for his side through a penalty.
Naivalu crossed for his first two minutes into the second half but again the Force responded as they drove the ball from a line-out before hooker Harry Scoble scrambled across.
Hard-running lock Lopeti Timani and Naivalu, who chimed in with his second try, blew the lead out to 27-15 before Morahan’s late effort.
Western Force coach Michael Foley said he was proud of the way his team played for their absent captain.
“Each player had talked about the way they wanted to support him and I thought they played pretty well,” Foley said.
“The Rebels were better on the night and we gave them some easy points in the second half, but apart from that I didn’t think there was much in the game.”
Both teams will take a week’s break before resuming training.