SYDNEY: Replacement Will Miller scored a 77th-minute try as the ACT Brumbies held off a fast-finishing Melbourne Rebels to record a 31-23 victory in "Super Rugby AU" in Canberra on Saturday.
Loose forward Miller was shunted over from a driving maul following an attacking lineout to snuff out an impressive Rebels fightback that had seen the visitors reduce an 18-point deficit to get to 24-23 with 10 minutes remaining.
Prior to the fightback by the visitors, the Brumbies showcased their status as pre-competition favourites with a plan centred around their strong pack, defence and efficiency of execution when they had the ball.
Winger Andy Muirhead, scrumhalf Joe Powell and hooker Folau Fainga'a scored first-half tries for the home side as they built a 19-6 lead with Matt Toomua's two penalties the only points the visitors could muster.
Brumbies winger Tom Wright extended the lead to 24-6 shortly after the break.
Hooker Jordan Uelese and captain Dane Haylett-Petty, however, both crossed for tries to give the Rebels hopes of a surprise victory.
Rebels flyhalf Toomua, earning his 100th Super Rugby cap, kicked his third penalty in the 71st minute to get the visitors to just one point behind and with all the momentum.
The Brumbies, who had a 10-point lead in the Australian conference of Super Rugby before it was halted due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, then tightened up and drove Miller over to ensure they started the domestic competition with a win.
The Rebels will play next week's match against the Queensland Reds in New South Wales after a spike in novel coronavirus infections in Melbourne.
They were forced to head to Canberra last week to fulfil strict health requirements imposed by the Queensland state government and are contemplating spending the entire 10-week competition on the road.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ed Osmond)