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Sam Gilbert the hero as Highlanders claim much-needed win over Rebels

By AAP
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Melbourne Rebels’ slim hopes of making the Super Rugby Pacific finals have suffered a hammer blow as they lost to the Highlanders in heart-breaking fashion in Dunedin.

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The match looked headed towards golden point before Highlanders centre Sam Gilbert booted the match-winning penalty in the 84th minute to break the deadlock and collect a 20-17 victory.

Both teams went into Saturday’s game on 15 points, three outside of the finals-bound top eight and desperate for victory.

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After a try-saving tackle by Rebels fullback Andrew Kellaway, who managed to roll and hold up Highlanders flanker James Lentjes as he tried to score in the 75th minute, Melbourne went on the attack but knocked the ball on after 10 phases.

Gilbert stepped up after Rebels No.8 Richard Hardwick, who had been one of their best, was pinged at the breakdown.

Melbourne were made to play the final 10 minutes with 14 men after Jordan Uelese was given a yellow card after the reserve hooker brought down a Highlanders player without the ball, mistiming his tackle.

It was a heavy price with Gilbert also booting a penalty to tie up the match at 17-17.

With in-form playmaker Carter Gordon missing the match with a bruised knee and Reece Hodge at five eighth for the first time this season, Melbourne’s attack lacked punch and polish early on.

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The Highlanders also made life difficult for the visitors at the breakdown by playing usual loose forwards All Black Shannon Frizell and Max Hicks in the second-row.

The home side looked to have crossed after two minutes but Rebels winger Lachie Anderson somehow got his hand under the ball to stop Gilbert grounding it for a try.

Former Sevens star Anderson also pulled off a try-saving tackle later in the half when he bumped Sean Withy into touch as he surged toward the line.

The Highlanders did manage to score in the 13th minute through fullback Connor Garden-Bachop before Melbourne levelled when Hardwick dived across from the back of the ruck.

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With turnovers cruelling the Rebels’ attack, the Dunedin side went into halftime up 14-7 after All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot broke through the goal-line defence at the 30 minute mark.

Melbourne again locked up the game when Stacey Ili, who set up Hardwick’s try, found a hole and then Hodge gave his team a 17-14 lead with a successful penalty strike.

But it didn’t prove enough to keep the home side at bay, with Melbourne’s season now effectively over with two rounds to play.

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