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The new-look Emirates Western Force has showed considerable promise despite going down to the Melbourne Rebels 30-23 in their Super Rugby opener at AAMI Park tonight.
Boasting seven new faces in its squad, the revamped Force backline featured heavily in the performance, turning on two of the side’s three tries, with winger Alfie Mafi reaping the benefits touching down on both occasions.
The third and final five-pointer came through replacement No.8 Richard Brown with his side two players short after flanker Chris Alcock and scrumhalf Alby Mathewson received yellow cards from referee Angus Gardner.
Emirates Western Force Head Coach Michael Foley said it was a positive start for his new side but important that they continue to build on tonight’s performance.
“Our ball usage was good tonight,” he said. “To come away with three tries was excellent and there was some very good backline play at times.
“In the first 20 minutes we controlled the game and had the play in right part of the field and were building phases and accumulating pressure. We just let the pressure off with turnovers and that brought the Rebels back into the game.
“The past 16 to 18 weeks for us has been particularly gruelling and the players have come through it tighter than they did before; I’m very proud of them on that front.
“It’s really important for this team, out of the season they had last year, not to look for any shortcuts or any easy answers. For us, we have to work very, very hard to not only play the sort of rugby we want to play but become the team we want to become.”
The Emirates Western Force began the match in dominant fashion, controlling the game from the kick-off and camping inside the Rebels’ half for the first quarter of the match. The sustained pressure was converted into two penalty goals to inside centre Kyle Godwin.
The Force registered the first five-pointer of the match at the 27th minute after the Rebels were reduced to 14 men with Scott Higginbotham sidelined with a yellow card. While Sam Wykes was initially held up over the line after some excellent lead-up work from Winston Stanley and Patrick Dellit, the Force touched down in earnest when Godwin and Dellit created the extra man from the ensuing scrum to put Mafi over in the corner for a 11-0 lead.
The Rebels hit back late in the half when hooker Ged Robinson scored from the back of a rolling maul with James O’Connor adding the conversion and a 37th-minute penalty to get his side to within a point at half time.
The home side edged ahead six minutes into the second term when winger Richard Kingi delivered a no-look pass for lock Hugh Pyle to score.
However, the Force responded four minutes later when Mafi burst onto a set play from the back of a centre-field scrum to register his second try for the evening in the corner.
When Alcock and Mathewson temporarily departed in quick succession, the Rebels struck back with Kingi swan-diving over in the right corner for a 27-16 lead.
Brown drew his side to within four points when he dived over from the back of a ruck following more sustained pressure with ten minutes remaining until a late O’Connor penalty goal sealed the 30-23 win for the Rebels.
The Emirates Western Force will depart for South Africa tomorrow where they will head to Port Elizabeth to take on the Kings in the Eastern Cape side’s first appearance in Super Rugby.
2013 Super Rugby – Week 1
Friday, 15 February 2013 at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 7.40pm (local)/4.40pm (AWST)
Rebels 30 (Ged Robinson, Hugh Pyle, Richard Kingi tries; James O’Connor 3/3 conversions, 3/3 penalty goals) defeated Emirates Western Force 23 (Alfie Mafi 2; Richard Brown tries; Kyle Godwin 1/3 conversions, 2/3 penalty goals)
Emirates Western Force: 1. Pek Cowan (c), 2. Nathan Charles, 3. Tetera Faulkner, 4. Sam Wykes, 5. Toby Lynn, 6. Angus Cottrell, 7. Chris Alcock, 8. Ben McCalman, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Sam Christie, 11. Alfie Mafi, 12. Kyle Godwin, 13. Winston Stanley, 14. Patrick Dellit, 15. Will Tupou. Res: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Kieran Longbottom, 18. Phoenix Battye, 19. Richard Brown, 20. Mick Snowden, 21. Sias Ebersohn, 22. Junior Rasolea
Coach: Michael Foley
Rebels: 1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Hugh Pyle, 5. Luke Jones, 6. Scott Higginbotham, 7. Scott Fugistaller, 8. Gareth Delve (c), 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Richard Kingi, 12. Rory Sidey, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Lachlan Mitchell, 15. James O’Connor. Res: 16. Shota Horie, 17. Paul Alo-Emile, 18. Cadeyrn Neville, 19. Jarrod Saffy, 20. Nic Stirzaker, 21. Alex Rokobaro, 22. Tom English
Coach: Damien Hill
Yellow Cards: Scott Higginbotham (22nd minute), Chris Alcock (58th minute), Alby Mathewson (62nd minute)
Red Cards: nil
Referee: Angus Gardner
Crowd: 11, 902
By the Clock