Rebels' spirit key to Super finals surge

Coach Dave Wessels says months on the road since June has built a spirit in the Melbourne Rebels that will help them in the Super Rugby AU finals.

MATT TOOMUA.
MATT TOOMUA. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

Coach Dave Wessels has hailed the spirit of his Melbourne Rebels after they snatched a Super Rugby AU finals spot at the death in their final round match against Western Force.

Matt Toomua booted the Rebels into the finals for the first time in their 10-year history, with a conversion on the siren that secured a miracle 34-30 win in Newcastle.

The Rebels needed to beat the Force by at least four points to earn a play-off berth ahead of the NSW Waratahs and Toomua calmly slotted the conversion after the match-winning try by prop Cabous Eloff.

"I'm just pleased with the fact that they stayed in it. It's a big moment for our club," Wessels said.

"There was a staff member who has been here since the start in tears after the game so it means a lot to people."

The Rebels have played away from Victoria the entire 10-round season and Wessels said it had built something special in the group.

"We've got to the point of a semi-final doing it a bit tougher than other teams and I'm really proud of the guys for that and I think it's built a spirit in our group that I haven't experienced in a team before," he said.

It looked like the Force would earn some sweet revenge on the Rebels by claiming their first win of the season, with the match coming three years to the day Melbourne survived the Super Rugby axe at their expense.

In a heart-stopping finale, Rebels' reserve hooker Efi Ma'afu thought he had scored but referee Angus Gardner said he had no clear vision with the TMO ruling the ball had been spilt backwards.

However, play had continued with Eloff picking up the ball and planting it next to the goal post, with the TMO awarding that try effort.

That gave the Rebels a 32-30 lead, however, a win wasn't enough, with Toomua's kick required to seal their maiden finals appearance.

The Rebels will meet the Queensland Reds in the Super Rugby AU qualifying final next Saturday in Brisbane, with the winner to take on the Brumbies in Canberra on September 19.

It's the third year in a row that Melbourne's hopes of a finals berth hung on a final-round result, and it looked like 2020 would continue their form of falling short.

"A little bit of relief and just really proud of the boys, we stuck at it there," Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty said.

"Rebels teams of old might not have done that, in the past we've been good at coming out of the blocks and when we got challenged we probably weren't as resilient."

It was an action-packed match with three players given yellow cards and the teams going toe-to-toe for the full 80 minutes.

Melbourne had led 20-8 before taking a five-point lead into halftime, however, the Force clawed their way back and then went ahead 30-20 to set up the sensational finish.