Highlanders reach quarterfinals despite defeat in Melbourne
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: Melbourne have edged the Highlanders 31-30 in their final round clash but the Kiwi team grabbed a bonus point to leapfrog the Western Force into the Super Rugby Pacific finals.
The Force did all they could to clinch the eighth spot in the play-offs with an upset win over the finals-bound Hurricanes on Saturday in Perth.
But they were relying on the Rebels to beat the Highlanders in their Sunday clash at AAMI Park while stopping the visitors collecting a losing bonus point for finishing within seven points.
Watching on as a team from Perth, the Force rode every moment but ultimately had nothing to celebrate, with the Highlanders moving through to take on the Blues in the quarterfinals.
Former Melbourne Storm flyer Young Tonumaipea secured the one-point lead when he scored in the 75th minute, pouncing on a Joe Powell grubber kick into the in-goal area.
The Rebels hunted another try, which would have seen the Force go through but couldn’t deliver and after earning a full-time penalty opted to kick the ball dead rather than risk losing the match.
Melbourne trailed 14-18 at half-time but hit the front through an impressive individual effort by young fullback Nick Jooste, who replaced injured Wallaby Reece Hodge (cork).
That went out to 26-18 when winger Lukas Ripley juggled a Matt Toomua pass over the line.
But they saw that lead evaporate in the 66th minute when the Highlanders scored their fourth try to go ahead 30-26.
Folau Fakatava continued his super sub role, turning the game on his head after replacing starting halfback Aaron Smith in the 59th minute.
He scored a try two minutes after his arrival after a break by No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, and then made a break to set up one for winger Fetuli Paea which put the Highlanders ahead.
But the Rebels stormed back to ensure they at least finished their rollercoaster season on a high.
Tries: Uelese, Vaihu, Jooste, Ripley, Tonumaipea,
Cons: To’omua 3
Tries: Van Vugt, Dickson, Fakatava, Paea,
Cons: Banks, Koroi
Pens: Banks 2
Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Lukas Ripley, 13 Andrew Kellaway, 12 Matt To’omua, 11 Glen Vaihu, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Rob Leota, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Michael Wells (captain), 5 Josh Canham, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Pone Fa’amausili, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Matt Gibbon.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Cabous Eloff, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Nick Jooste, 23 George Worth.
Highlanders: 15 Liam Coombes-Fabling, 14 Fetuli Paea, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Rory van Vugt, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 James Lentjes (co-captain), 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Sam Caird, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Vilimoni Koroi, 23 Denny Solomona.
Referee: Jordan way
Assistant referees: Nic Berry, Matt Kellahan
TMO: Oli Kellett