If the start of Super Rugby felt like Christmas then this rugby spectacle came as quite a present.
The first 20: 7.5 out of 10.
The Force took the ascendency in the first 20 minutes. They played at a frantic pace defined by excellent running off the ball, offloads to match and dominance at the breakdown. They managed to open up the Rebels’ midfield on several occasions in the early exchanges and it was left to O’Connor at fullback to limit the damage more often than he would have liked. At this stage we were left wondering if the Rebels would have any answer to the well-tuned performance of the Force whose only errors were poor goal-kicking and some faulty lineouts. The Rebels fleeting moments of possession in this stanza suggested major counter-attacking potential but it was their lack of presence, urgency and physicality in the loose and a lack of discipline at the breakdown that kept them out of the contest.
The second 20: 8.25 out of 10.
Just when we thought the quality of play couldn’t improve! The Force began to take the ascendancy in the scrum yet now found themselves on the back foot as the Rebels achieved more possession by effecting greater precision at the breakdown. The Rebels attacking prowess now came to the fore and stretched the Force’s defence on numerous occasions. Higginbotham was given a yellow for a scrap were he and another player should both rather have been cautioned by Angus Gardiner. Some seven’s style rugby was added to the mix as the match began to open up. O’Connor’s tactical kicking in open play was shaky at best affording the Force their few moments of respite in this stanza. Half time 10 – 11 (Force lead).
The third 20: 7.5 out of 10.
Both sides came out showing early signs of fatigue due to the immense pace of the first half. They reined in the pace slightly yet the showmanship of seven’s style passing and counter-attacking continued. Another yellow was issued again for punching yet this time to Chris Alcock from the Force. This passage was defined by a second shift in momentum as the Force clawed their way into the match after being heavily on the receiving end just before half time.
The fourth 20: 7.75 out of 10.
As the match entered this final passage the pace and urgency increased with growing belief in both sides that a desperately wanted win was within reach. Probably the turning point of the match soon followed as referee Angus Gardiner awarded the 3rd yellow card of the match in a howler of a decision as Alby Mathewson was sent to the bin for pushing a player off the ball in what should have been a penalty at the very most. The Rebels soon made the most of their 15 on 13 advantage by scoring down the wing on a massive overlap. The Force fought back until the final whistle but the Rebels were resolute in defence and held out to win 30 – 23 in an impressive Super Rugby opener.