IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
After compiling their biggest ever half-time lead, the Melbourne Rebels' season plunged to a new low with a last-minute 32-25 loss to the NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park on Friday night.
The year might only be five rounds old, but already any hope the Rebels had of making the finals for the first time appear dashed.
Rooted to the foot of the table with just one bonus point to their name, the Rebels are two wins behind the Waratahs and ACT Brumbies, who play the Highlanders on Saturday night.
Coasting at 25-6 up at half-time, the enterprising Rebels got a standing ovation as they ran to the sheds.
But for much of the next hour the small but passionate crowd edged closer and closer to the extremity of their seats as the Waratahs surged like a tidal wave.
And by match's end the ground was awash with boos.
As they have for their past three games, the Rebels faded badly as the match went on.
The Rebels were inspired in the first half, with Reece Hodge scoring 20 points - two tries, two penalties and two conversions.
But inspiration turned to insipidness after the break - injuries notwithstanding - as no one stood tall to halt the light blue momentum.
Hooker James Hanson went off with concussion in the first half, as did locks Culum Retallick and Dominic Day - the latter departing less than 30 seconds after coming on in his Super Rugby debut.
But it's no excuse for the dramatic decline.
The margin was back to 25-18 by the 59th minute, but although the score didn't move for 19 minutes there was a sense of inevitability as the Waratahs mounted raid after raid.
It was an enthralling contest from the start and it would have an enthralling end, with Michael Wells barging over in the 77th minute - just moments after Colby Fainga'a was sin binned - before David Horwitz broke Rebels hearts with his last minute try.
Meanwhile, the Western Force conceded seven tries in a 45-17 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
It was the New Zealand side's fifth straight victory.
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