Cabous Eloff scored a last-minute try as the Melbourne Rebels beat the Western Force 34-30 in their final regular season game of Super Rugby AU in Newcastle on Saturday to reach the playoffs for the first time.
Eloff was awarded the try after review to give the Rebels the four-point victory they needed to move past the New South Wales Waratahs into third place in the domestic competition.
The Rebels now face the second-placed Queensland Reds next week for a spot in the final against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra on Sept. 19.
The Reds finished the regular season with a 26-7 victory in Brisbane over the Brumbies, who had sealed top spot on the table and automatic qualification for the final before the last matches of the regular season on Saturday.
“A little bit of relief and just really proud of the boys. We stuck at it there,” said Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty.
“Credit to the Force, for a long period of the game there they were on top of us and yeah, it was a great effort to fight back and score that try.”
The Rebels, who joined Super Rugby in 2011, have never qualified for the playoffs in the broader competition, which included teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Japan.
They had their best chances in 2018 and again last year, only to lose their final regular season games.
The Melbourne-based side, needing to win by at least four points, raced to a 20-8 lead just before halftime.
The Force, however, swung the momentum of the game with tries by Andrew Ready either side of half time and to Brynard Stander midway through the second half to give the Perth-based team a 10-point advantage.
Haylett-Petty reduced the deficit with a 59th-minute try, and the Rebels then snuck into the playoffs when Eloff crashed over the line, sending his side into raptures.