18 Jun 2011

Rebels take wooden spoon after loss

2:25 pm on 18 June 2011

Former Hurricanes first five Willie Ripia kicked a long-range penalty two minutes from time to ensure the Western Force handed the Melbourne Rebels the Super Rugby wooden spoon in their inaugural season with a 27-24 victory on Friday.

Long out of the playoff reckoning and clearly exhausted by a long season, the Australian rivals played out an error-strewn match with two tries apiece in the second half livening up an encounter which had degenerated into a kicking contest.

The Force grabbed the momentum when livewire winger David Smith and first five James Stannard crossed the tryline within two minutes of each other just after the hour mark.

The Rebels, trying to avoid a ninth consecutive defeat, struck back through replacement hooker Adam Freier and skipper Sterling Mortlock to leave the match tied at 24-24 with six minutes to play.

Replacement Ripia's winning kick, which went over off the upright, was poetic justice of sorts as Mortlock's try was preceded by a clear knock-on.

The Force struggled without the spark provided by suspended Wallabies back James O'Connor, who was released this week when the Perth-based team said they were unwilling to meet his contract demands.

Australian media reports suggest he will now be on the way to the Rebels for next season and the appreciative Melbourne support will look forward to watching him play outside Cipriani, if the former England first five stays for a second year.