Rebels, Highlanders win thrillers in Super Rugby openers

CANBERRA (AFP) – A new-look Melbourne Rebels stormed past the ACT Brumbies while a 14-man Otago Highlanders beat the Waikato Chiefs in a thrilling start to the Super Rugby season yesterday.

The Rebels, bolstered by the signing of enigmatic Wallabies outcast Quade Cooper to partner Will Genia in the backs, posted five tries in their 34-27 win in Canberra.

The Brumbies’ defeat was made even more painful by superstar David Pocock failing a head injury assessment in the opening five minutes after taking a heavy knock.

He was forced from the field, continuing a terrible run of injuries that has seen his off-season interrupted by neck and calf issues.

In Hamilton, the Highlanders rallied from behind to narrowly beat the Waikato Chiefs 30-27.

All Black half-back Aaron Smith’s late try sealed the win for a team who had Sio Tomkinson sent off for a high shot on Brodie Retallick.

The Brumbies took a 22-19 lead into half-time after an entertaining first 40 minutes in which both sides planted three tries.

Folau Fainga’a flopped over the line after a powerful Brumbies driving maul to get the first try of the Australian season, before Tom English put the Rebels on the scoreboard three minutes later when he touched down after being lifted in a tackle.

Both teams were spreading the ball wide, and the Rebels’ Jack Maddocks scooped up a terrible kick from Irae Simone inside his 22 to score an easy try to put the visitors in front.

Matt Phillip got the Rebels’ third of the half with Rory Arnold and Alan Ala’alatoa also touching down to keep the Brumbies in the topsy-turvy match.

It was a tighter second-half with the home team playing into a strong breeze, and the Rebels took advantage with Anaru Rangi shrugging off three defenders to score after being set up by a barnstorming run from Maddocks.