Rebels still chasing their maiden overseas win

Getty Images     06 Jul 2014     Getty Images

Taking a 17-14 lead midway through the second half, the Rebels appeared poised to win their first match outside of Australia. But a length of the field try saw the momentum swing the way of the home side, triggering a run of 20 straight points to hand the Rebels a fourth consecutive defeat.

On a cold Friday night at Ellis Park, the Rebels took some time to warm to the task after conceding a try in the first minute of the match. But the visitors responded, defending stoutly and often making inroads with some expansive attacking play. The forward pack responded after being overwhelmed by the Reds last week, particularly the loose forwards in Colby Fainga'a and Scott Fuglistaller. The tireless Luke Jones was again prominent and Luke Burgess also impressed.

But the Rebels were punished by the deadly boot of Springbok flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff who ensured the Lions went into the main break on top and finished with five penalty goals in total.

The quest to win their first match on foreign soil started terribly with a knock-on in the opening moments handing the Lions a scrum close to the line. A brilliant long pass from Boshoff cleared winger Tom Kingston allowing Anthonie Volmink to score in the corner.

A second Rebels error had the Lions pressing again but a timely Fainga'a turnover close to the goal line eased the pressure. However the Rebels were penalised soon after and the Boshoff penalty goal extended the lead to 8-0.

The Rebels almost converted their first opportunity when Jack Debreczeni sliced through the defence and appeared to put Captain Scott Higginbotham on course for the try line, but his final stride crossed the touchline before he could ground the ball in the corner.

But it was not long before the Rebels celebrated their first points after a steal from Fuglistaller put his side on the attack. Quick play from Burgess launched a chain of passes out wide to winger Tom English ran 30 metres to score.

Debreczeni landed a fine conversion from the sideline but soon missed a penalty that would have put his team in front. Boshoff, on the other hand, made the most of his opportunity minutes later to extend the lead to 11-7. The two kickers then traded penalties to see the Lions take a 14-10 lead into the main break.

The Rebels struck first in the second half after Lions centre Alwyn Hollenbach was penalised for tackling the Rebels newly re-signed Japanese international Shota Horie without the ball. Electing to stay on the attack, the forward pack drove through the Lions defence allowing Fainga'a to touch down and give the visitors their first lead of the night. Debreczeni landed the conversion to make the score 17-14 after 52 minutes and it appeared like the Rebels were in for a historic evening.

But the home side responded five minutes later through a try to flanker Warwick Tecklenburg that proved to be the turning point of the match. Causing a turnover close to their own line, the Lions charged forward through multiple phases before Tecklenburg barged over to finish off an impressive team try.

Having retaken the lead, the Lions almost struck a double blow when an intercept sent reserve hooker Armand van der Merwe on a 60 metre run to the line only for the speedy English managing to drag down his opponent barely a metre before the line and deny the hooker a rare five-pointer.

But the Rebels were punished again by the boot of Boshoff with a pair of penalty goals giving the Lions a ten point lead with 14 minutes left to play and any chance of a late fight back was then lost when Higginbotham received a yellow card for dangerous play, leaving the Rebels one player down for the final ten minutes of the match. The Lions took full advantage with captain Warren Whitely scoring to ensure victory for the home side.

Rebels' Head Coach Tony McGahan believes his side's inability to cope defensively with momentum shifts ultimately was the difference, in a game where the scoreline flattered the hosts.

"We're disappointed with the loss, but as far as our spirit and fight we were excellent," McGahan said. "We fought back after a poor start and showed a lot of belief in each other, and some of our work on attack was terrific. Unfortunately there was a big momentum shift after 65 minutes and we couldn't turn it around, finishing the game with thirteen men, but we fought until the very end and the guys showed a lot of fortitude and mateship."

McGahan was quick to play down any suggestion that the Rebels struggled in the final quarter due to their inexperience playing at altitude.

"We don't have any excuses about altitude or playing away from home; we have had a great preparation, we just weren't able to grab that momentum at the end. We turned the ball over and they took it 90 metres, and from there we weren't able to get it back where we needed it."

Replacement scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker assumed the Captaincy in the final stages, with Higginbotham in the bin and Fuglistaller having been replaced, and speaking afterwards spoke about missed opportunities but pride in certain aspects.

"It was a very physical game and there are lots of sore bodies in the sheds now," he said. "The Lions are a very good side, and they reacted to a lot of our turnovers quickly and were able to shift momentum very well. We struggled to wrestle momentum back when we needed to do so.

"Our scrum stood up really well, and we managed to score a rolling maul try against a South African team away from home; that's a great achievement. There were a lot of positives, but we still have a lot to work on to finish the year with a win."

The Rebels now travel to Pretoria for their final game of the 2014 Super Rugby season against the Bulls.