Melbourne gave its Super Rugby coach Damien Hill and a host of departing players a fairytale finish as the Rebels came from behind to snatch a 38-37 win over the Highlanders.
Down 31-7 at half-time, the Rebels produced a stunning second half with Bryce Hegarty scoring the match-winning try in the final minute to steal victory.
It was young Hegarty’s second try while winger Cooper Vuna and centre Tom English also finished with doubles.
Axed Wallaby James O’Connor came off the bench and gave the Rebels a taste of what they will be missing next season by throwing the final passes in three of five second-half tries.
The Highlanders ran in four first-half tries to seal a bonus point before the break and it looked for a time like that lead would prove too great for the home side to peg back in the season-ending game.
After a poor opening 40 minutes, the Rebels looked a completely different outfit in the second stanza with some credit due to O’Connor.
Told this week he wasn’t wanted by Melbourne, the Test five-eighth came on early in the second half.
Their attack looked sharper with his presence at No.10 as they fought their way back into the game.
It was a thrilling end for Hill, who will be replaced next season by Wallabies assistant coach Tony McGahan, while Test stars O’Connor and Nick Phipps, skipper Gareth Delve, Vuna and retiring prop Nic Henderson are all leaving the club.
MELBOURNE REBELS 38 (Tom English 2, Bryce Hegarty 2, Cooper Vuna 2 tries Jason Woodward 4 cons) bt OTAGO HIGHLANDERS 37 (Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Ben Smith, Tony Woodcock tries Colin Slade 4 cons Slade 2, Hayden Parker pens) at AAMI Park. Referee: Andrew Lees. Crowd: 12,485.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.