Hurricanes 47 Rebels 45

Injured ... James O'Connor of the Rebels.

Injured ... James O'Connor of the Rebels. Photo: Getty Images

JAMES O'CONNOR is expected to be fit for the Melbourne Rebels' season opener against Western Force despite the Wallabies star suffering a bad gash to his bottom lip that required 18 stitches during the team's trial-game loss to the Hurricanes in Geelong on Saturday.

O'Connor, who started the game at fullback, picked up the injury just before half-time and did not play in the second half of an entertaining game. A team spokesman said he should be fit for Friday's clash at AAMI Park.

Saturday's game came down to the final play, after the siren, when the Rebels were awarded a penalty for a high tackle on Richard Kingi. The Rebels opted for the scrum but a fumble by Paul Alo-Emile put an end to their chance of snatching victory.

Rory Sidey of the Rebels. Click for more photos

Hurricanes down Rebels

Rory Sidey of the Rebels. Photo: Robert Prezioso

  • Rory Sidey of the Rebels.
  • Kurtley Beale of the Rebels.
  • Rory Sidey of the Rebels is tackled.
  • Jason Eaton of the Hurricanes attempts to score a try as Tim Davidson of the Rebels tries to ground the ball.
  • Luke Jones of the Rebels is tackled.
  • James Marshall of the Hurricanes.
  • Matt Proctor of the Hurricanes.
  • Andre Taylor of the Hurricanes is tackled by Gareth Delve of the Rebels.
  • Ben Franks of the Hurricanes is tackled by Gareth Delve of the Rebels.
  • James O'Connor of the Rebels crosses the line to score a try.
  • Mitch Inman of the Rebels is tackled.
  • Richard Kingi of the Rebels.
  • James King of the Rebels.

The finish was fitting for a free-flowing game where both teams showed plenty of flair but where defence, at times, appeared to be an afterthought. O'Connor, Gareth Delve and Kingi all scored strong tries, pushing through multiple defenders, but

the Rebels' defence was equally leaky and the Hurricanes took advantage of the hosts' new combinations in the outside-backs.

The older generation of Rebels players, such as Stirling Mortlock, Julian Huxley, Al Campbell and Adam Freier, have moved on and

in their place is a group that includes three genuine world-class players in Kurtley Beale, O'Connor and Scott Higginbotham. The back-rower did not play on Saturday but is expected to be fit to face Western Force. Among their ranks is a group of younger players, such as Hugh Pyle, Luke Jones and Cadeyrn Neville, who have been blooded in the past two years.

In a pleasing sight for Rebels fans, O'Connor and Beale were on the field at the same time on Saturday – something that happened only a handful of times last season because of injuries. The pair are expected to swap between five-eighth and fullback through the season.

Beale, starting in the No. 10 jersey, was active in the first 20 minutes as the Rebels scored tries through new recruit Rory Sidey, captain Delve and Ged Robinson. O'Connor scored a strong try just before half-time but then suffered the blow to his head which ended his game.

Nine tries were scored in the first half, and 14 in total. The Rebels' attack looked sharp and slick, with their dangerous-looking back line taking advantage of every chance they had. Their forwards also provided punch, with Delve scoring two tries.

The Rebels did not allow the Hurricanes to run away with the game after the Wellington-based team hit back to take the lead for the first time midway through the second half when Matt Proctor's try made it 35-33. The teams went try for try for much of the final 40 minutes as the coaches rang the changes to give bench players game time.