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'Kid wonder': Lancaster, Gordon shine as Rebels take one giant step in locking in maiden Super Rugby finals berth

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13th April, 2024
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The Melbourne Rebels have taken a giant step toward securing a maiden finals berth after knocking over the Highlanders 47-31 on Saturday evening.

On the back of a hat-trick to “kid wonder” Darby Lancaster and a double to playmaker Carter Gordon, the Rebels ran in seven tries to the Highlanders’ four to seal one of the franchise’s most important wins and leapfrog the Chiefs into fourth spot.

Back in 2019 the Rebels started the season on fire but faded badly to miss the knockout stages of the tournament.

That doesn’t look like occurring in 2024, with Kevin Foote’s side winning three on the trot for the first time in four years.

It’s a remarkable turn of events, with the Rebels delivering one of their best seasons on record despite their futures in limbo as the embattled Super Rugby franchise looks for a way through their financial turmoil. The win also came off the back of the Rebels’ women’s side defeating the Fiji Drua 34-21.

“The Melbourne Rebels are making headlines for all the right reasons now,” Stan Sport lead commentator Sean Maloney said.

Carter Gordon celebrates scoring a try with Ryan Louwrens during the Rebels’ win over the Highlanders at AAMI Park on April 13, 2024, in Melbourne. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images) 

After Nick Stiles helped assemble the squad over the past 24 months, Foote must take lots of the credit for keeping the group together.

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The leadership of Sam Talakai, who is leading in the absence of Rob Leota and starting ahead of Taniela Tupou, is also coming to the fore.

“Really happy with the guys, happy with the win and go into the bye (on a high),” Talakai said.

While the Rebels’ defence still looks brittle and their inability to put pressure on the breakdown remains a concern, Gordon has the Burn City boys playing with plenty of confidence with ball-in-hand.

The 23-year-old’s passing and vision continue to grow, while he’s also benefiting from playing off quick ball.

No more was that the case than when he stormed onto a ball from halfback Ryan Louwrens to score and open up a handsome second half lead.

His try came after Tupou burst onto a Gordon ball near the opposition 22 metre line, before the replacement tight-head prop got away a lovely offload to Andrew Kellaway who was brought down just metres short of the line. With quick ball, Gordon scored and the smiles returned.

No one smiled brighter than Lancaster, who finished off his hat-trick by picking up a ball off his shoe laces and then ran 50 metres to score under the sticks.

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The slips-like catch put the cherry on top of his performance, but it was his two earlier efforts in the first half, particularly his grubber out wide to score, which showed his quality.

“Have we found a new kid wonder?” two-time World Cup-winning Wallaby Tim Horan said. “He’s going to be some sort of player.”

Justin Harrison added: “What a season he’s having.”

Lancaster, who burst onto the scene via the Australian sevens team and still might yet play a role in Paris in July, was naturally delighted and said his experience in the abbreviated version of the game had helped his transition.

“Absolutely stoked to get a win tonight,” Lancaster said.

“We had a real focus leading up to these three games leading up to our bye week next week and to take out all three, and with such a good performance tonight, we’re just over the moon.

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“I think it’s just little skills. Sevens is such a game of refined skills, there’s only seven guys on each team so everything matters.”

Darby Lancaster celebrates scoring the first of three tries against the Highlanders at AAMI Park on April 13, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Chadwick/Getty Images)

Although Gordon and Lancaster got the headlines, Josh Kemeny made a timely return and was excellent on both sides of the ball.

Tupou once again used his giant frame to great effect, while Tuaina Taii Tualima was busy.

Filipo Daugunu also had another strong performance and the consistency and quality on both sides of the ball will be impressing Joe Schmidt.

Andrew Kellaway also made a seamless return at fullback.

Despite winning five of their opening eight matches, Gordon added that the Rebels were conscious of the difficult finish to the season they have, where they’ll play the high flying Blues, Chiefs, Brumbies and Drua away over the next two months.

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“It was really pleasing to get the win tonight,” he said. “We’ve had a really big three-week focus and to have won those three games puts us into a really good spot heading into the bye-round.

“We’ve got some big games coming up. We haven’t versed these top of the table teams yet apart from the ‘Canes, so we’ve got some big games ahead of us. If we can play and get some results against them, then it might be hard not to look forward.”

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