Matt Toomua converted a try at the death to book a Super Rugby AU playoff berth for the Melbourne Rebels Saturday, where they will meet the Queensland Reds who upset the table-topping ACT Brumbies.
The Rebels needed to beat Western Force by at least four points to clinch third spot ahead of the NSW Waratahs and they left it very late in a thrilling 34-30 win.
Trailing by three points with 20 minutes remaining, they had two tries disallowed before Cabous Eloff finally got the breakthrough and Toomua safely converted on the full-time hooter to sneak victory.
It ensured a clash against the Reds next weekend, with the winner facing the Brumbies in the September 19 final.
The Brumbies had already secured a spot in the decider, but were given a massive wake-up call in a 26-7 thumping by the Reds in Brisbane, with Liam Wright, Chris Feauai-Sautia and Tate McDermott bagging tries.
Watch: Rebels edge Force
Victory put the Rebels in a Super Rugby playoffs for the first time and skipper Dane Haylett-Petty said it was great achievement.
“A little bit of relief and really just proud of the boys. It was a great effort to fight back and score that try,” he said.
“Just another Rebels-Force nailbiter. Over the last 10 years they’ve all gone down to the wire. Another great game.”
Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty
Defeat was a crushing blow for the hard-working Force who lost all eight matches on their return to Super Rugby after being axed in 2017.
Despite this, captain Ian Prior paid tribute to his team, who have spent 10 weeks on the road due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m proud of the guts and the effort of the guys week in and week out,” he said. “We haven’t got the results that we wanted but are really proud of the patches of performances we strung together.”
Played at Newcastle, north of Sydney, Prior booted his side into an early 3-0 advantage.
But the Rebels dominated possession and Tom Pincus sprinted to the try line on 17 minutes, only for Henry Taefu to hit straight back for the Force.
Toomua converted two quick penalties to give them a 13-8 cushion and they bagged another try from Reece Hodge off a charge-down.
The Force stayed in touch with a set-piece try by Andrew Ready to send them to the break trailing 20-13, and he pounced again after the restart, with Prior converting then kicking a penalty to restore their lead.
Brynard Stander got a fourth try for the Perth team, before Haylett-Petty combined with Marika Koroibete to dot down and haul them within three points.
It set up an exciting finale with Koroibete and Matt Philip having tries disallowed before Eloff and Toomua sealed the win.
In Brisbane, the Reds piled on early pressure and took the lead on five minutes after a 13-phase build-up that culminated in Wright crossing the line.
Two successful James O’Connor penalties put them in the driving seat and when Feauai-Sautia ended a flowing move for their second try they were 18-0 ahead.
Pete Samu pulled a try back for the Brumbies on the half-time hooter and second-half went scoreless for 25 minutes until O’Connor kicked another penalty then McDermott sealed the win.