Melbourne thump Force to rock Super finals hopes
Melbourne have put a major dent in the Western Force's Super Rugby Pacific finals aspirations and farewelled Rebels stalwart Reece Hodge from AAMI Park in style with a thumping 52-14 victory.
The loss wasn't the only damage inflicted on the Force's play-off hopes, with the WA club relegated to ninth by Queensland's last-gasp loss to the Highlanders earlier on Friday night.
The Rebels breathed life back into their season with the eight tries to two bonus point victory while Force left empty-handed.
Melbourne coach Kevin Foote was delighted with the performance.
"I was really proud because there was a lot of nerves and emotion around people leaving the club," he said.
"To play our brand of rugby for 80 minutes is just awesome, I'm really happy.
"The pack was amazing tonight, Jordie (Uelese) played big minutes and the injection of Matt Philip into the tight five has been huge and we held them out for three line-out maul tries.
"The whole 23 did really well."
Currently 10th, the Rebels take on the third-placed Brumbies in the final round and if they win in Canberra and other results fall their way could squeak into the finals.
The Force, who haven't lost in Perth this season, will need to beat the ladder-leading Chiefs at home to force their way back into finals contention.
Force coach Simon Cron said his team needed to learn from the loss.
"We were in that game but we started to go quite individual and kicked the ball away, gave it back to them easily and that combined with some set piece stuff - that wasn't good tonight," he said.
"We were responsible for alleviating some of the pressure.
"We let them have momentum ... in big moments it's important we stick to the job but we went away from that."
The match was the last at home for France-bound centre Hodge, who overtook Tom English as the most-capped Melbourne player with 99.
The 28-year-old was unable to get amongst the try-scoring action, with five of the Rebels' forwards - Brad Wilkin, Sam Talakai, Josh Kemeny, Richard Hardwick and Vaiolini Ekuasi - sharing some of the spoils.
Melbourne set up the win with their go-forward and dominance at the set-piece and breakdown.
The rest of the tries were scored by Ryan Louwrens, Lachie Anderson and Nick Jooste in Melbourne's biggest ever score posted at AAMI Park.
Five-eighth Carter Gordon, who missed last week's loss to the Highlanders with a knee injury, and veteran halfback Louwrens combined to spark the relentless Rebels attack.
Bullocking centre Sam Spink scored a try in each half for the Force - intercepting a Gordon pass for his second.
But it was otherwise a disappointing showing to follow their breakthrough win over the Brumbies last time out.