Melbourne have cracked their first win of the Super Rugby Pacific season, getting revenge on Fijian Drua with a spirited 42-27 victory at AAMI Park.
The Rebels were third-round losers to the Drua but delivered their best performance of the season on Friday night to end a 10-game losing streak dating back to last season.
The Fijians surged late in the match, scoring two tries in three minutes but Rebels reserve prop Cameron Orr countered before fulltime to seal the win.
Beaming Melbourne coach Kevin Foote said he was delighted by the performance and the poise shown by his team under pressure.
“I’m so proud – I feel relief but also so happy for the boys,” Foote said.
“It’s been a tough start for us but that was awesome.
“The mentality to stay at the game plan and the courage, with a man down as well … we’ve made great improvements over the last couple of weeks so it’s happy days.”
The home side were up 21-6 by halftime, playing smart rugby to put the athletic Fijians off their game.
With props Cabous Eloff and Matt Gibbon leading the way, and new halfback James Tuttle playing with purpose, they crossed after five minutes with Wallabies lock Matt Philip planting the ball after a seven-phase build-up.
Two penalty kicks by Matt Toomua extended the lead to 11-0 before pumped up hooker Jordan Uelese erupted after he took the ball from the back of the maul to touch down.
While the Drua also got on the board through two penalties, kicked by five-eighth Teti Tela, the Rebels had the last say of the half through Toomua’s boot.
Melbourne stuck to their structured game plan in the second half with exciting young centre Ray Nu’u finding a hole in the defence in the 48th minute.
The home side remained on guard for a trademark second half fightback by their opponents, having given up a 14-0 lead in their previous clash.
They showed desperate defence to repel a 16-phase raid before the Fijians took a quick tap and Kitione Salawa skipped through.
Melbourne also lost star fullback Reece Hodge to a yellow card as he tried to pilfer the ball from offside moments before the try.
While the Fijians turned up the heat, with Kaleveti Ravouvou crossing in an 85-metre effort that went through eight sets of hands, tries by Eloff and Orr secured a well-deserved win.
It was disappointing for the Drua after two tight losses to the Western Force and Queensland Reds as they find their feet in the competition.
“Once we started chasing the game we got our energy and our urgency and we started to put some points on the board,” Drua coach Mick Byrne said.
“The Rebels played well – that’s not the Rebels who were playing in the first three weeks.
“We didn’t meet the fire with the fire.”