Melbourne Rebels coach Tony McGahan has lamented his side’s failure to cope with a late momentum shift after the Lions came from behind for a 34-17 win in South Africa on Saturday morning (AEST).
The Rebels were leading 17-14 with 25 minutes to play before the fast-finishing Lions scored two tries and two penalty goals to close out the Super Rugby match.
“We fought back after a poor start and showed a lot of belief in each other,” McGahan said.
“Unfortunately there was a big momentum shift and we couldn’t turn it around.”
McGahan played down suggestions the Rebels struggled in the final quarter due to their inexperience playing at the altitude of Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium.
“We don’t have any excuses about altitude or playing away from home, we have had a great preparation,” he said.
“We just weren’t able to grab that momentum at the end.
“We turned the ball over and they took it 90 metres, and from there we weren’t able to get it back where we needed it.”
The Rebels’ fourth straight loss puts them in prime wooden spoon territory ahead of next weekend’s last-round clash against the Bulls.
The visitors had their chances, however, with captain Scott Higginbotham twice bundled into touch while reaching out to score.
His night only got worse in the 70th minute when he was given a yellow card for a tip tackle on Willie Britz.
The Lions were extremely successful at pressuring the Rebels at the breakdown and stalling their momentum.
Young Rebels fullback Jack Debreczeni started nervously in his second game taking over from Jason Woodward, making a couple of mistakes and missing an absolute sitter of a penalty goal from almost directly in front.
Lions sharpshooter Marnitz Boshoff, on the other hand, starred for the home side, kicking seven goals for a haul of 19 points and throwing a long cut out pass for a second-minute try to winger Anthony Volmink.
A 22nd minute quick tap from Rebels halfback Luke Burgess finally sparked the visitors into action, Tom English crossing to narrow the gap to 8-7.
The Rebels hit the front in the 52nd minute when flanker Colby Fainga’a scored from a maul.
English then thought he had crossed for a double when he dived over a ruck, only to embarrassingly realise he’d placed the ball over the five metre line, not the try line.
That hurt the Rebels, their stalled momentum resulting in the Lions going the length of the field for a 57th minute try to Warwick Tecklenburg and a three-point lead.
After Boshoff knocked over his final two penalties, Lions captain Warren Whitely put the result beyond doubt with a 71st minute try.