Bill Meakes scored twice as the Melbourne Rebels ramped up the pressure at the top of the Australian conference with a 20-10 Super Rugby win over the Blues in Auckland on Saturday.
The three-tries-to-one victory put the Rebels three points ahead of the Waratahs, who play the Reds later during the weekend.
The Blues, languishing at the bottom of the New Zealand conference, are out of playoff contention and have little to play for other than to be a spoiler in the competition.
But they could not even manage that, despite having a territorial edge for large parts of the game, as they slumped to their 10th loss in 13 games, while the Rebels advanced to seven wins out of 13 matches to overtake the Waratahs at the top of the Australian ladder.
Importantly for Australian morale, it is their second win over a New Zealand side in a fortnight after the Waratahs snapped a 40-match losing streak with their win over the Highlanders two weeks ago.
The Rebels play the Waratahs in the next round – after the three-week Test window – and centre Tom English said confidence is building.
“It’s always good to be playing good footie, and to string a couple of wins together gives a bit more momentum. We’ve gone back to bringing that line-speed and intensity,” he said.
The Rebels made the most of their attacking chances in contrast to the error-ridden Blues, who made regular forays into enemy territory but rarely looked threatening.
There was early pressure from the Blues which only produced a Stephen Perofeta penalty, while the Rebels were on the board with a try in their first sustained push into Blues territory.
After a series of forward drives on the Auckland line, the Rebels moved the ball wide to Meakes, who strolled over untouched.
The Rebels remained in front for more than 20 minutes, and when the Blues regained the lead with a converted try to Terrence Hepetema in the countdown to halftime, the Melbourne unit responded immediately with a try to Dane Haylett-Petty.
Meakes scored his second try immediately after the resumption to push the Rebels lead out to 17-10.
While the Blues turned down shots at goal in a fruitless attempt to score a try, the Rebels extended their advantage at the three-quarter mark with a 49-metre Hodge penalty.