After all the dust had settled on the Super Rugby AU preliminary final, the story turned out as expected. The Brumbies advanced to their third showdown of the season against the Queensland Reds, and the Force went home to lick their wounds.
Melbourne made no mistake with their second crack at super time, edging the Western Force 25-20 in their grudge match at Leichhardt Oval on Friday night.
Wallabies number eight Isi Naisarani, playing his first game in Super Rugby AU following a hamstring injury, scored the match-winning try in the second minute of extra time.
The Rebels had already had a taste of super time, drawing with the Reds in Round 2 with neither side able to score in the ten minutes.
Melbourne captain Matt Toomua, who was again one of his team’s best, said they were better for their earlier experience at extra time, which was only introduced this season
“We learnt from our mistakes,” Toomua told Fox Sports.
“I thought there was a real pick-up in intensity in that super time, it was almost like it woke us up and you saw us get physical.
“If we took a leaf out of that book for the whole game it probably would have been easier but credit to the Force they put us under a lot of pressure and forced a lot of silly penalties that cost us the chance to win in the first 80.”
The last time the teams met in 2017 they were fighting for Super Rugby survival, with the Force winning that match and the Rebels winning the battle to stay in the competition.
But they again broke Force hearts, leaving them winless after four games.
Force lock Jeremy Thrush, who took over the captaincy following the late withdrawal of halfback Ian Prior, said it was a tough result to swallow.
“It was there for the taking,” Thrush said.
“That was the story of the night; we put pressure on them and then released it with our exits inside our own half.
“It was pretty gutting to lose like that.”
Both teams had the chance to break the 20-20 deadlock with a penalty kick by Force five-eighth Jono Lance going wide before a 60-metre strike by Rebels fullback Reece Hodge after the fulltime hooter fell short.
For a third time in four matches the Force built an early lead, going up 10-0, only to allow their opposition back into the game.
The match was stalled for more than five minutes early on with Force flanker Tevin Ferris stretchered off with a suspected neck injury after an awkward tackle, leaving his teammates looking rattled.
It was a scrappy first half, with referee Angus Gardner blowing 18 penalties including 11 conceded by the Rebels as well as a yellow card for Naisarani.
There was plenty of feeling in the match, with the teams involved in a scuffle midway through the half with Gardner telling the captains: “I understand there’s some history between the two teams so let’s put that down to getting it out of the system”.
The Force looked like they would take the lead into the main break until Hodge managed to nail a penalty from 45 metres out two minutes after the hooter to level at 10-10.
The teams traded tries and penalties in an upbeat second half, while Thrush was also hit with a yellow card.
Lance levelled the score after 63 minutes but neither side could find the winning points, pushing the game into extra time.
Thrush spilt the ball from the kick-off and Rebels, through Naisarani, rumbled over.