The Force would have liked nothing better than to have destroyed the Rebels dreams as it was the Victorians who nabbed the last Australian spot in Super Rugby and the West Australians who were discarded when the decision to rationalise the elite competition was taken.

And the Perth-based side almost achieved that aim, leading until the final seconds in a drama charged game at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium.

Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Perry says Melbourne have work to do before finals. Credit:Getty Images

In a taut opening 10 minutes it was the Force, looking for their first win of the season, who hit the front, Ian Prior converting an early penalty.

The Rebels settled their nerves in the 18th minute when a kick from the Force was charged down, the ball eventually coming to Toomua, whose pass out wide found winger Tom Pincus who went over, Toomua converting.

But the nerves were rattling shortly after when the Force themselves went over, Henry Taefu being put through by Jack McGregor.

Western Force’s Jono Lance is tackled. Credit:Getty Images

The Rebels looked set to break away in the 28th minute when another charge down saw the ball spin loose to Cameron Orr, whose long pass found Reece Hodge who went over. When Toomua slotted home the conversion, the gap was 12 points and the Victorians were comfortable.

Orr thought he had stretched the lead five minutes before the interval but his try was disallowed for obstruction. Any thoughts the Rebels had of a comfortable half-time break evaporated seconds before the interval when the Force pack managed to power forward in a maul and Andrew Ready grounded.

Crunch time: Reece Hodge is tackled. Credit:Getty Images

The tension mounted even further four minutes into the second period when another driving maul gave Ready a second chance and he touched down for another try, Prior converting to tie the scores at 20-20.

The game threatened to become a nightmare for the Rebels in the 55th minute when Prior slotted home from a penalty and things got worse soon after when Pincus was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. Force took full advantage and Brynard Stander scored another try. When Prior converted, the scoreline read 30-20 in their favour.

But Haylett-Petty, the Rebels captain playing his first game in six weeks, reduced the deficit and when Toomua took the extras the gap was three points with 20 minutes remaining.

The Rebels laid siege to the Force line but suffered a series of heartbreaking close calls.

Western Force’s Jeremy Thursh is tackled Credit:Getty Images

Marika Koirobete thought he had put his side into a winning position when he broke to score but the try was ruled out for a forward pass. Then, Matt Philip grounded with two minutes remaining only for his effort to be ruled out as well.

But Cabous Eloff managed to rescue the Rebels’ dreams when he charged over seconds before the siren and Toomua converted to stretch the margin to the four points needed.

Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing

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