A string of calls in the dying minutes ultimately cost the Melbourne Rebels a shot at beating Australia’s leading Super Rugby Pacific side.
The ACT Brumbies prevailed 33-26 in round 11, securing their eighth win of the season.
It was another loss for the Rebels, who have just three triumphs to their credit this season in what has so far been a year of what-ifs and close-fought contests.
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Sunday’s match was no different, with a titanic clash that didn’t necessarily represent where either team sat on the ladder.
With the win, the Brumbies rose to second behind the all-conquering Chiefs while the Rebels fell to ninth and on the verge of missing the finals.
A converted try would have given the Rebels a shot at Golden Point and an opportunity to sneak an unlikely win.
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Ultimately, they let themselves down in the final passage of play.
The Brumbies made repeated infringements and conceded penalties with five minutes to go, losing Darcy Swain to the sin bin in the process.
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However, rather than opt for a scrum or line-out throw while the Brumbies were down to 14 men, the Rebels opted for a tap-and-go on three occasions.
In the first instance, Cabous Eloff was denied a try due to a double movement.
In the second, Carter Gordon found clear air but came up short.
In the third, Rob Valetini was held up after he burst over the line which gave possession back to the Brumbies with a goal-line dropout.
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“Just failed to execute there at the end,” Reece Hodge told Stan Sport’s Drew Mitchell.
“Probably, in hindsight, should have gone for the scrum there with one of their locks off the field and closed it out. It’s disappointing.”
Former Wallabies star Andrew Hoiles echoed that sentiment, putting the loss down to the double movement.
“The decision to go for a quick tap here from the Rebels, it was probably a sign of respect to the Brumbies’ defensive maul,” Hoiles explained.
“We talk about their attacking maul so well, but when an attacking side turns down the opportunity to go to a maul this close, it’s telling you something about the opposition.
“This was the moment that probably killed all hope. Just a little bit of a second movement with his legs there from big Cabous. A sign of respect to the Brumbies maul.”
Tim Horan added, “It was a little bit surprising that they didn’t go for touch and go for a rolling maul five metres out, but that was a pretty good effort from the rebels to stay in the match”.
All told, the Brumbies were able to hold out in the dying moments of the match to kick it into touch and win, 33-26.
The Brumbies will face the Highlanders in the capital in round 12 while the Rebels head to Sydney to battle the Waratahs.
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