Red tide beats Rebels
Try time: Queensland's Adam Wallace-Harrison scores against the Rebels at AAMI Park last night. Photo: Getty Images
IT WAS meant to be a night of celebration for the Melbourne Rebels. A night in which Melbourne rugby fans had a chance to farewell inspirational captain Stirling Mortlock and fellow veterans Al Campbell and Julian Huxley in the Rebels' last home game of the season.
But despite a 30-minute period when the Rebels scored two tries and wrenched control back from the Reds, it was ultimately a night of disappointment for Melbourne as it went down 32-17.
The Reds scored four tries and gained a bonus point to go level on 49 at the top of the Australian conference with the Brumbies, who play Western Force tonight.
Mortlock had been in doubt for the game because of a calf problem, admitting that it had been a ''toss of the coin'' about whether he would make it onto the field, but confirmed late that he would play and lasted the first half, replaced by Lachlan Mitchell in the second 40 minutes.
It was James O'Connor's first game since round-nine's clash against New South Wales in April, when he suffered a lacerated liver, and the five-eighth had some classy moments with two sharp line breaks in the first half.
The Reds lost Quade Cooper, coming off early in the second half and icing his leg, while try-scorer Chris F'Sautia was helped from the field with an arm injury.
Rebels full-back Kurtley Beale also made his comeback from a shoulder injury and despite sporting sore ribs suffered during the Wallabies win over Wales last weekend, played a brilliant game, often being the spark in attack and scoring the Rebels' first try, and another to Lachlan Mitchell 10 minutes later helped put the Rebels back in the game.
The Rebels were more than equal to the defending champions early in the game, Jono Owen being prevented from an early try by Reds five-eighth Cooper.
Cooper, who is regarded as a defensive weak link, did well to get his body under Owen's arm and television match official Matt Goddard could not determine if he had scored.
The try was therefore denied but the Rebels were awarded a penalty for an earlier infringement and O'Connor slotted the kick to give the Rebels a 3-0 lead.
But that would be the last of the good times for the Rebels for a while as the Reds took control of the game. They opened it up with a try to F'Sautia, a late replacement for Wallaby Digby Ioane, who withdrew because of a chest infection.
F'Sautia was at the end of a flowing movement that came after a Rebels mix-up at a lineout in their own defensive 22 when Adam Freier overcooked his throw.
Mike Harris' conversion and later penalty, after Freier was picked up for a ruck infringement, gave the Reds a 10-3 lead. Harris then set up the Reds' second try with a chip kick which he regathered on the full and sent the back line on a flowing move that covered three-quarters of the field which was capped by Dom Shipperley scoring in the left-hand corner.
A further try to Adam Wallace-Harrison, set up by a fantastic piece of skill by Cooper who stood in a tackle and offloaded to Wallace-Harrison, blew the game open late in the first half.