Big effort: Rebel Nick Phipps is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try against the Crusaders last night.

Big effort: Rebel Nick Phipps is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try against the Crusaders last night. Photo: Getty Images

THE Melbourne Rebels last night pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season when they came from behind to defeat the most storied side in Super Rugby, the Crusaders, in a thrilling encounter at AAMI Park.

They kept the Kiwi titans scoreless for the entire second half to run out winners 28-19.

Scrum half Nick Phipps scored two tries, and Stirling Mortlock, off the bench as a second-half substitute, rolled back the years to dive over and clinch a momentous triumph in front of 18,423 joyous fans who could have dreamt, but scarcely hoped, for such an outcome.

Much had been made of the Rebels' terrific display against one of the sport's powerhouse franchises eight days earlier, when they went down narrowly to the Bulls in front of their own fans.

The talk throughout the week was that game might, just might, have been the kind of performance that marked a coming of age for Super Rugby's newest franchise.

So what if the odds were against them? What better chance would the Rebels get than to build a legacy by following up against the Crusaders, stacked, as they are, with All Blacks and two of the sport's biggest names in Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

With Kurtley Beale controlling the tempo of their attacks and linking well with Phipps, the hosts mounted a series of early attacks that pinned the New Zealanders back in their own half, reducing them to scrambling defence and last-gasp challenges to keep the Australians at bay.

But grim defence can only be sustained for so long, and eventually the Crusaders' wall was breached when Phipps went over in the 11th minute for his second try in a fortnight.

Beale took the extras and the Rebels' plan seemed to be working well.

But against a team of such talent and experience as the Crusaders, it is impossible to relax.

Time and again men such as McCaw and Carter have shown at the highest levels of the sport that all they need is a chink, a lapse in concentration or lack of discipline by their opponents, to be able to inspire their team against whatever confronts them.

The Rebels were unable to cash in on their attacking pressure and slowly but surely the wily Crusaders ground their way back into this game, assisted by some cheaply conceded penalties by a Rebels team whose discipline let them down at a handful of critical junctures.

Tom Taylor, who has taken over the kicking duties at the Crusaders, is in fine form and he got his side back into the contest by booting two penalties to reduce the gap to a point, although the Rebels were able to stretch it to four when Beale kicked a penalty.

The Crusaders got the break they were hoping for when they got clear down the left and despite an heroic tackle by Hugh Pyle to deny Tom Marshall, Luke Whitelock was able to pick up the ball and go over in the corner.

Taylor's conversion made it 13-10 in the blink of an eye and the lead was lost.

Having had so much of the game it could have been morale-sapping for the home team to go to the interval 19-10 behind but the resilient Rebels came out firing in the second period. They monopolised possession and dominated the game.

Beale reduced the deficit with a penalty to make it 19-13 to the Kiwis, and with 20 minutes to go the hosts were closing in.

Last year the new boys would surely have come up short.

But this second-season side is made of sterner stuff and Phipps triggered unbridled delight in the stands when he gleefully received Mark Gerrard's pass to score his second try of the night. The extra points put the hosts into a shock lead.

Mortlock made it a night the Rebels will never forget when he intercepted the ball and played a one-two with Cooper Vuna.

The Rebels, with their latest two performances, are building the tradition that they hope will ultimately give them the platform to one day become challengers themselves.