Melbourne coach Dave Wessels has hailed Isi Naisarani as the best backrower in Australia after the No.8 clinched their extra time win over the Western Force in his first Super Rugby AU match.
Naisarani hadn't played since March after a hamstring injury in coronavirus lockdown and was made work for his return, with Wessels saying this week he'd been held back after failing to meet fitness and weight standards.
But Naisarani played the full 80 minutes at Leichhardt Stadium - apart from 10 on the sidelines with a yellow card - and delivered the Rebels a crucial victory when he barged over to break the deadlock for a 25-20 win.
Playing his 50th Super match, the World Cup No.8 topped Melbourne's stats with 14 runs and 78 run metres - double any of his teammates.
Wessels said despite his lack of game time he had no plans to replace him in the second half.
"To me he's the best backrower in Australia and he proved that again," he said.
"You're not really thinking about taking him off if you get him out there.
"We've got a lot of depth and competition in our backrow with Brad Wilkin, who has come back from three ACLs, and Dickie Hardwick has been excellent the last couple of weeks."
The result produced more heartbreak for the Force, who have now led and been overrun in three Super Rugby AU matches.
Coach Tim Sampson described their fourth loss as tough to swallow, particularly following news they won't be able to play any home games in Perth.
"It's pretty gut-wrenching," he said.
"There's no better way to describe that. It's pretty tough to take."
He said his team needed to be more "ruthless".
"I don't think it's mental lapses ... we've got to play smart footy and keep the pressure on the opposition."
The Force next face the Waratahs, whose only win has come against the Perth team, while the Rebels take on the ladder-leading Brumbies.
Sampson said flanker Tevin Ferris, who was stretchered off with a suspected neck injury, had recovered well.