By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The Melbourne Rebels held off an undisciplined Western Force 30-23 to win the season-opening match of Super Rugby at the Rectangular stadium in Melbourne on Friday.
Winger Alfi Mafi scored a try in each half for the Perth-based Force, but the visitors were made to pay when they had two men sent off in the space of five minutes in the second half on a balmy evening.
Replacement loose forward Richard Brown scored a late try with 10 minutes left to bring Force back within four points, but Rebels fullback James O'Connor capped a perfect night with the boot with a third penalty to give the hosts enough breathing space.
"I think we did make pretty hard work there for ourselves," the Rebels Welsh captain Gareth Delve said in a pitchside interview. "We trusted our systems and the work we'd done over the pre-season.
"I'm happy with the win, not particularly happy with the performance."
In a contest between two of the cellar-dwelling sides of 2012, the match failed to live up to spectacular heights, with both teams shaking off a lot of rust.
The Rebels opened their third season in the southern hemisphere provincial competition particularly poorly, surrendering possession with a litany of handling errors in the first half and seeing hot-headed flanker Scott Higginbotham sin-binned in the 23rd minute for throwing a punch.
Inside centre Kyle Godwin knocked over the resulting penalty and the visitors capitalised further with an overlap that allowed Mafi to canter over the line at the left corner.
Trailing 11-0, the Rebels finally held onto the ball long enough to pressure the Force defence and hooker Ged Robinson was driven over the line with seven minutes left in the half.
The home side came out fired up after the break and Hugh Pyle crossed at the right corner in the 46th minute, the lock thundering over unopposed after receiving a brilliant offload from winger Richard Kingi.
Mafi hit back for Force three minutes later when he bolted over at the left corner to trim the lead back to a point, but the wheels fell off when flanker Chris Alcock and scrumhalf Alby Mathewson were both sent off.
Alcock was yellow-carded in the 57th minute for rough play and Mathewson followed him off soon after, having petulantly dragged scrumhalf Nick Phipps to the turf during a stoppage.
With the two-man advantage, the Rebels quickly spread the ball to the right wing, where winger Richard Kingi dived theatrically over the line after receiving a beautifully weighted pass from O'Connor.
Improbably, the Force resisted further damage and sniffed an unlikely victory when Brown bundled over. O'Connor, however, slotted the late penalty to finish with 15 points and six straight kicks and the Rebels defence stood firm in the final minutes. (Editing by Justin Palmer)