The Melbourne Rebels have run into a Super Rugby finals road block, with the Brumbies extending their Australian conference lead with a 30-22 victory at AAMI Park.
The Rebels pegged Friday night’s match as the biggest in their history and crucial to their finals’ hopes, with some tough games to follow including two trips to New Zealand.
But they trail the Brumbies by six points while the NSW Waratahs, who play on Saturday, sit between them.
The Rebels managed to get to within three points in the final 10 minutes before Brumbies winger Nigel Ah Wong sealed the victory with a diving try in the corner.
It appeared the visitors had wrapped it up minutes before when referee Ben O’Keith looked to award a try to prop Allan Alaalatoa only to change his mind when he saw on the video screen that the Brumbies had earlier knocked on.
Melbourne at least went down swinging and their effort couldn’t be faulted, particularly in defence.
In the first half, they made 72 tackles to the Brumbies’ 44 – at one stage lining up to take down a 25-phase play. The Rebels only had 26 per cent of possession as they trailed 20-10 at the break.
The Brumbies, however, deserved credit for answering any challenge the Rebels threw at them.
Melbourne started the second half with a bang with promising centre Reece Hodge catching the Brumbies short out wide.
The conversion made the scoreline 20-17 but, seven minutes later, Brumbies back-rower Scott Fardy found a gaping hole to touch down and extend the lead.
The Rebels weren’t done with, as winger Sefa Naivalu burnt the opposition to set up a thrilling final quarter before Ah Wong scored his team’s fifth try of the night.