Melbourne Rebels centre James O’Connor showed the brilliant footwork that has made him one of the hottest players in the world to score his first try for his new club in their final Super Rugby trial.
The Rebels were overrun 19-14 by New Zealand heavyweights the Crusaders but did enough, particularly in the first half when they fielded their strongest line-up, to keep coach Damien Hill happy.
Prized signing O’Connor gave Rebels fans at AAMI Park a taste of what is to to come with their first competition match looming, against New South Wales on March 3.
Melbourne led 14-7 at half-time after O’Connor popped a ball for tireless number eight Gareth Delve to score in the 23rd minute and then showed some individual brilliance for a try of his own 10 minutes later.
O’Connor took the ball at first phase from a scrum and bedazzled the Crusaders defenders as he hot-stepped around them to touch down.
The only concern was that he left the field among a number of changes in the 45th minute and immediately iced his left leg.
O’Connor said after the match he felt a minor twinge in his quad but did not leave the field due to the injury.
Starting hooker Ged Robinson will have scans on a calf injury that forced him from the field just seven minutes into the game.
Hill said there were some good signs but he remains frustrated at their inability to convert opportunities into points.
“The effort was there from the start to the finish and we got to trial 30-odd players in that game and it was good to see a few guys who stood up so we’ll get a lot from that,” he said.
“The line-out was reasonable, the defence was strong and we really made them work for their points.
“The major disappointment was the opportunities we made for ourselves, we weren’t able to capitalise and that’s something this team needs to learn.”
All Black Israel Dagg opened the scoring for the Crusaders in the 16th minute and then added another just over a minute into the second half thanks to some handy work by five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal, who had an impressive match.
The Crusaders took advantage of some confusion among the new personnel and hit the front in the 48th minute 19-14 through a try to centre Adam Whitelock.
In their second trial the Rebels fell away in the second half but this week the new faces in the line-up stood up against the Crusaders, who lost to Queensland in last year’s Super Rugby final.
They were mostly at full strength with the exception of injured Test duo Dan Carter and their skipper Richie McCaw.
Melbourne’s defence, last year easily the worst in the competition, again looked promising while the set-piece was also strong.