Substitute Lukas Ripley has scored a hat-trick of tries but it wasn’t enough to keep the Melbourne Rebels’ finals hopes alive in a 45-22 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The Rebels needed to win Saturday night’s Super Rugby Pacific match to have any hope of leapfrogging the Highlanders into eighth spot.
Ripley’s unexpected triple – after he had replaced Reece Hodge in the sixth minute – gave the visitors some hope.
But the Hurricanes showed their class when it mattered most, running in seven tries to three to secure the bonus-point victory.
The result means the Rebels (3-10) can only finish ninth at best, with next week’s match against the Highlanders now a dead rubber.
The fifth-placed Hurricanes (8-5) are still a chance of snaring fourth spot and the home quarter-final that comes with it.
“It’s a similar story for the last few weeks, we are bleeding through the heart of our defence right around the ruck,” Rebels captain Michael Wells told Stan.
“In a grown man’s game, you can’t let people come through the middle.
“The Hurricanes put us to the sword every time.”
Hodge limped off with a right knee injury in the early stages and a blowout loomed after the Hurricanes ran in three tries in the opening 19 minutes – all from lineouts.
Winger Julian Savea opened the scoring in the third minute when he put on his turbo after the Hurricanes had swung it to the right from the lineout.
Seven minutes later, the Hurricanes pulled off an even smoother lineout move to allow outside centre Billy Proctor to touch down under the posts.
Alarm bells were ringing for the Rebels in the 19th minute when they were unable to stop a rolling maul that led to flanker Blake Gibson touching down.
The Rebels scored their first try in the 23rd minute when Ripley burst over.
Ripley’s second try in the 50th minute kept the margin at a manageable 11 points.
But the Hurricanes held firm when the pressure was at its hottest, running in the next three tries to secure victory.
Ripley secured his hat-trick three minutes later when he ran onto a pin-point grubber kick from Matt To’omua.
The Hurricanes lost a number of players to the flu in the lead-up to the match, and stand-in skipper TJ Perenara praised the way his team handled the setbacks.
“It’s been an interesting week,” Perenara said.
“We had one training run and a captain’s run, eight changes to our team this week.
“It’s a credit to the team and the environment that allows us to have a disrupted week and still come out and put in a performance like that.
“We’re playing some awesome footy.”