Rebels blown away after early ambush
FOR half an hour the new-look Melbourne Rebels threatened to turn the 2018 Super Rugby season on its head.
And then for the next 50 minutes the hosts were blown away by 23 Hurricanes at AAMI Park.
Not one person in the pleasantly surprising crowd of 16,135 should have walked away unhappy last night after being witness to one of the more entertaining rugby games seen at the ground in some time.
But the Rebels will have walked away knowing in no uncertain terms they have plenty of work to do to be able to match it with the competition's best after suffering a 50-19 loss to title favourite Wellington.
The Rebels are still on top of the Super Rugby ladder this morning.
But despite showing off plenty of potential in the first 30 minutes, it is still abundantly clear that there remains a huge gulf in class between the Rebels and New Zealand powerhouses such as the 2016 champion Hurricanes.
The Rebels led 19-8 after Jack Debreczeni converted a Matt Philip try in the 30th minute.
It would be under-stating the tempo to say the match was played at a frenetic pace in the first half, with the Rebels going toe-to-toe with the more fancied opponents in the attacking and ball-playing stakes.
But then the tide turned in dramatic fashion.
The Hurricanes, led by inspirational flyhalf Beauden Barrett, scored 17 unanswered points in six minutes to go to the break 25-19 in front.
And the rampage continued after the break with the Rebels unable to score another point while the Kiwi side added another 25.
Winger Ben Lam finished with a staggering four tries, while Barrett, Gareth Evans and Ngani Laumape added the others, with Barrett adding a further 15 points from the boot.
The result means Australian teams have now suffered 33 straight defeats at the hands of New Zealand sides dating back to 2016.
But there was enough there to say the Rebels, who have a bye next weekend, may be able to trouble some of their Kiwi cousins later in the year.
The crowd, while swelled by scores of Hurricanes fans, was the largest the club has had since 2012 and was indicative of the strides made by the club both on and off the park this year.
Rebels coach Dave Wessels declared the Hurricanes the team to beat in 2018.
He also said losing No.8 Amanaki Mafi to concussion just prior to half time was a blow.
"There are a lot of positives in there for me - and I'm not usually one to say that when we haven't won," Wessels said.
"There were a lot of unknowns coming into this game for us. The game was an opportunity for us to set a marker and say 'what are the things we improve on the next couple of months to be genuinely competitive at the top end?'
"The Hurricanes are the most dominant team of Super Rugby in the last couple of years and I thought in that first half we played some really good rugby.
"But ultimately we lost the game because they controlled the field better."
SUPER RUGBY ROUND 7
HURRICANES 50 def REBELS 19
At AAMI Park
Pens: Debreczeni 4
Tries: Lam 4, Barrett, Evans, Laumape
Cons: Barrett 3
Pens: Barrett 3
Yellow: Meakes (66th)