Rebels pipped by Cheetahs after the siren
REBELS 26 CHEETAHS 33
Attacking spark ... James O'Connor. Photo: Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels missed a golden opportunity to crack their first win of the Super Rugby season as the Cheetahs clawed their way to a heart-stopping 33-26 win at AAMI Park on Sunday.
A try by reserve back Piet van Zyl after the final hooter broke the 26-26 deadlock and consigned the Rebels to a shattering defeat.
Tall order ... Tim Davidson of the Rebels wins the ball in a lineout against the Cheetahs at AAMI Park yesterday. It was the Rebels’ 12th successive loss. Photo: Getty Images
The home side looked like they would escape with a draw but the Cheetahs refused to settle and ran the ball 70 metres with van Zyl the man of the moment.
The luckless South Africans had lost their last two games by a combined three points and earned the win after leading 20-10 at halftime.
Rebels golden boy James O'Connor compiled 21 points for his team, including a second-half try, which was his first for his new club.
Starting at five-eighth for the first time, Wallaby O'Connor was in the thick of the action all game.
The visitors were off to a flying start thanks to two tries to winger Willie le Roux, who also spent 10 minutes on the sidelines in the first half for a deliberate knock-on when the Rebels were in the ideal scoring position.
He also gave away a crucial penalty for kicking the ball into the stands which gave Melbourne the lead for the first time in the match in the 62nd minute.
That didn't last long with Cheetahs sharpshooter Johan Goosen levelling at 26-26 with a penalty strike of his own three minutes later.
Melbourne didn't help their cause in the opening half with a high error rate, poor discipline and some aimless kicking to give away possession.
They missed Wallaby fullback Kurtley Beale, who was ruled out late in the week with a calf injury.
But they showed plenty of spirit to claw their way back into the match and started the second half with a flourish, opening with an O'Connor penalty kick.
Switching to inside centre as Danny Cipriani came off the bench, O'Connor's try added to the bright start when he showed his class to find a way through some heavy traffic.
The Cheetahs had most of the ball for the final 10 minutes but some desperate defence by the Rebels looked like it would allow them a share of the points until the van Zyl decider.
CHEETAHS 33 (Willie Le Roux 2, Piet van Zyl tries Johan Goosen 3 cons 4 pens) bt MELBOURNE REBELS 26 (Adam Freier, James O'Connor tries O'Connor 2 cons 4 pens) at AAMI Park. Referee: Garratt Williamson. Crowd: 11,522.