New opposition, same old issues for Moana Pasifika.
The new Auckland-based franchise remain rooted to the bottom of the Super Rugby Pacific table after a 26-22 loss to the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday night.
In what was their first crack at Australian opposition, having had last weekend’s clash against the Force postponed because of Covid-19 cases amongst the Western Australian side, Moana were let down once again by their fundamentals in another frustrating outing for coach Aaron Mauger.
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Enjoying the majority of possession and easily bettering the hosts in many of the stats lines, Moana were made to rue wobbly set pieces, some sloppy discipline and some basic handling errors which never allowed them to get a roll on at AAMI Park.
A try to sensational winger Timoci Tavatavanawai (recording game high numbers for metres , carries , defenders beaten  and offloads [three]) in the 77th minute proved too little too late, as Moana botched a golden chance to steal it late.
Rebels second-five Ray Nu’u, who was just returning from suspension for a high tackle, was shown another red card, for his 81st minute shoulder to the head of Christian Leali’ifano, but Lincoln McClutchie inexplicably then couldn’t find the touchline from the penalty.
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Not long earlier, the Hawke’s Bay playmaker had also butchered a try in the corner when Rebels No 10 Carter Gordon’s covering tackle ensured he dropped the ball at the line.
Although they had shown decent improvement in defending the rolling maul in their last outing against the Chiefs a fortnight ago, it had been no secret that was Moana’s big struggle, and sure enough Rebels hooker James Hanson bagged a double in that department in the space of 10 minutes in the first half.
The Rebels’ halftime advantage looked like it would bloat to 11 when, off a scrum, Reece Hodge put in a smart kick to the corner and Michael Wells went close, only for the TMO to rule Leali’ifano had brought him down centimetres from the line. And Moana again breathed a sigh of relief on the siren when Mike Curry got over the ball to win a relieving penalty, and at 14-10 they were still right in it.
Opening the second stanza with much more intent to play, the visitors were then rewarded 10 minutes into the half when Abraham Pole charged over to put them back in front.
But that lead lasted all of just a few minutes, as the Rebels got going dangerously down the other end and on a left shift it was Hodge who dummied and coasted between two defenders to dive in untouched.
Then in the 62nd minute came what proved to be the clincher, as just after Tavatavanawai made a fantastic run, the ball was turned over and the Rebels went the length, with Wallabies winger Andrew Kellaway finishing in style in the corner.
The Rebels are now into eighth spot, a point ahead of the Force, who have a game in hand, while Moana (who also have a game in hand) still sit at the bottom of the pile, three behind the Fijian Drua.
Both teams now head to Auckland, with the Rebels facing the table-topping Blues at Eden Park on Friday night and Moana hosting the Crusader-beating Waratahs at Mt Smart Stadium next Saturday evening.