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'We needed that': Gordon, Kellaway star in Rebels' epic comeback win as Force capitulate

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1st March, 2024
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Doubles to Carter Gordon and Andrew Kellaway have seen the Melbourne Rebels overturn a massive 15-point second-half deficit against the Western Force to record an important win to open Super Round on Friday night at AAMI Park.

Starring down the barrel of a second humbling defeat in as many weeks on home turf, the Rebels scored three tries in five minutes to rocket back into the contest and leave the Force shellshocked.

In total, the Rebels scored 29 unanswered points to seal a memorable victory that will do plenty for the feeling and confidence levels of those at the embattled Super Rugby franchise.

Rebels centre David Feliuai celebrates with Filipo Daugunu after the winger’s try against the Western Force at AAMI Park in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The victory came off the back of last week’s false start, where the Rebels, one of the most active sides in the off-season in the recruitment department and an organisation that has been through the wringer after falling into voluntary administration in late January, lost 30-3 to the Brumbies.

Indeed, two-time World Cup winning Wallaby Tim Horan described the Rebels’ first-up performance as “soft”, as Kevin Foote’s side blew 16 attacking zone entries to come away with only a sole penalty.

Local product and Rebels captain Rob Leota said the stinging criticism had hurt.

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“I’m so proud,” he said.

“Our forwards coach Geoff Parling puts a lot of effort into it, so when we hear messages like that it hurts all of us.

“Geoff got a bit emotional before our game today and we really wanted to do a job for him and block out that criticism and focus on us, and we’re glad we were able to show a good performance and we’ll do that all year.”

Foote, who admitted Horan’s comments were fair during a post-match interview with Stan, said he was proud of the Rebels’ resilience and character.

“We only took the lead for the first time in the 58th minute and the guys hung in,” he said. “There was a few comments about our character this week, so I spoke about that at half time and the guys reacted.”    

Josh Canham gets away an offload to send in Josh Kemeny to score at AAMI Park, on March 01, 2024, in Melbourne. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The Force looked like they were flying when Ben Donaldson added an early three points to start the second half, before Michael Wells’ try out wide extended the lead out to 15 after 48 minutes.

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But a failure to deal with a couple of box kicks soon after saw the Rebels seize the momentum.

Force coach Simon Cron will look back and rue a missed opportunity in the 33rd minute, as recruit Harry Potter broke free and looked to put his outside back teammate Max Burey away with the score 17-5.

But the winger’s pass floated forward and what looked like being a 24-5 lead kept the Rebels firmly in the hunt.

While both sides traded tries, the Rebels took the momentum into half time as the home side flexed their muscle at the scrum department as Leota turned down a couple of shots at goal to finish with a greater prize.

Eventually, six minutes into stoppage time, Carter Gordon attacked the blindside and sent the excellent Andrew Kellaway into score.

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Although the Force regained the momentum and looked like putting away a ragged Rebels side early in the second half, the game suddenly turned on its head as everything the home side touched turned to gold.

Northampton Saints bound flanker Josh Kemeny started off the second half blitz, as the Wallaby stretched out to score after a lovely offload from second-rower Josh Canham. For the second straight week though, Gordon missed from just right of the upright as his conversion attempt struck the post.

Gordon’s wild five minutes however continued, as the Test fly-half intercepted his World Cup teammate Donaldson centre field and ran 75 metres to score.

Filipo Daugunu then scored two minutes later, as the winger pounced on a loose ball as Ryan Louwrens’ box kick was left to bounce.

Replacement Jake Strachan, who was exceptional against his old side after coming on for the injured Matt Proctor, then banged over three points to give the Rebels a converted try lead.

Despite some nervy moments, Daugunu’s second try, as the winger stormed onto a clever David Feliuai kick, ensured the Rebels would have something to smile about at last heading into the weekend.

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Kellaway, who started the night by scoring a stunning individual try that showed off his cool head and strong running game, admitted the Rebels needed the win after a tough three months.

“We needed that one,” he said.

“It was scrappy, but we’ll take it. It’s certainly a step in the right direction for us and onto another challenge next week.”

Asked how his side turned it around, the Wallabies fullback said the injection from the bench helped.

“Our bench was fantastic,” he said. “We had a couple of guys come off the bench and make a genuine impact.

“We’ve talked about our depth this year and I thought they showed that tonight.”

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The Rebels had several strong performers, with Alex Mafi putting behind a terrible opening half-hour to play 75 minutes and play his part in the come-from-behind win.

His front-row teammate Taniela Tupou did the business at the scrum in his 50-minute effort, while Lukhan Salakaia-Loto showed his experience and desire for work throughout an eye-catching match.

Kellaway’s assured display at the back also kept the Rebels in the hunt in the first half, while replacements Vaiolini Ekusai, Louwrens and Strachan were superb off the bench.

But fixing up their passive defence, as well as applying more pressure at the breakdown will be essential if the Rebels are to build on the win.

Donaldson was one of the Force’s best during the opening 50 minutes, setting up an early try after slicing through some weak defence and having a perfect night off the tee to finish the night with 14 points.

His backline teammates Potter and Burey, as well as hooker Tom Horton, also thrived in the opening 50 minutes.

But it was a final half-hour to forget for the Force, as Cron’s men let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers ahead of next week’s clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.

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Force skipper Jeremy Williams, who missed the opening match because of concussion, lamented his side’s second-half capitulation.

“Momentum’s a funny thing. We started well and had that momentum and back-to-back penalties, scrum penalties around the park, and it put us on our heels and we couldn’t get it back,” he said.

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