Sportal.co.nz 16.Feb.2013Getty Images
Trailing 11-0 after half an hour and still in arrears at half-time, the Rebels found some of their attacking flair to register a narrow opening-round victory for the first time in their short history.
Both sides ran in three tries apiece, with the difference proving to be the reliable boot of Rebels full-back James O'Connor.
O'Connor didn't miss a single shot on goal all night, while his opposite number Kyle Godwin failed to convert two Force tries and was also wayward with a penalty attempt early in the contest.
Still, there were enough positive signs for both sides and plenty the two Australian franchises can take out of a contest played in humid conditions in Melbourne.
It was the Force that dominated territory and possession early on in proceedings, but the only points they could put on the board was a solitary penalty goal through the boot of Godwin.
The Rebels were impatient with ball in hand and often attempted to throw the miraculous pass, while the Force were doing the basics well, without threatening to cross for a try.
Things went from bad to worse for the Rebels midway through the opening half when star recruit Scott Higginbotham was sent to the sin bin for retaliating aggressively to a punch thrown by Force lock Toby Lynn and the visitors made their numerical advantage count.
Godwin converted the ensuing penalty and moments later winger Alfie Mafi touched down out wide for the opening try of the night to make it 11-0 to the Force after 30 minutes.
Sensing the urgency of the situation, the Rebels pushed forward in the search of some points before the half-time break and they were rewarded with a try of their own through Ged Robinson.
It was a true team try and came to fruition just after Higginbotham's return, with the big forwards doing all the bullocking work and Robinson barging over from close range to take the accolades.
O'Connor made no mistake with the extras and then split the middle with a penalty goal minutes later to draw the hosts within one (11-10) at the break.
Some staunch goal-line defence from the Rebels kept the Force out early in the second half and the home side went straight down the other end to take their first lead of the night.
Hugh Pyle found some space in the middle of the field, fed Richard Kingi out wide, before the winger threw a superb offload that the Rebels lock collected and ran in under little pressure.
The Force replied almost immediately when Mafi collected his second try of the night, but Godwin's inaccuracy and O'Connor's trusty boot in front of goal meant the Rebels held sway (20-16) with a little over 20 minutes remaining.
Both teams were now looking dangerous with ball in hand, but former Waratah Chris Alcock and experienced Kiwi Alby Mathewson were both shown yellow cards in quick succession and this gave the momentum to the home side during a vital part of the match.
Defending 15 with 13 was always going to be tough for the Force and the Rebels took full advantage of the situation when Kingi crossed over out wide to put the Rebels into a commanding lead (25-16) with 15 minutes left.
The Force wouldn't give up, though, as Richard Brown scored a try against the run of play with 10 minutes left on the clock to give the visitors hope in the final moments of the game.
But there was to be no thrilling finale as an O'Connor penalty goal late in proceedings put the Rebels into an unassailable position and meant the Force will have to wait at least another 12 months to register a victory in their first game of a Super Rugby season.
Melbourne Rebels 30
Tries: Robinson, Pyle, Kingi
Conversions: O'Connor 4
Penalty goals: O'Connor 2
Western Force 23
Tries: Mafi 2, Brown
Penalty goals: Godwin 2