The Chiefs were made to fight for a 22-16 victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Hamilton on Saturday.
The hosts scored 16 unanswered points in the first 15 minutes, and looked to be on course for an emphatic victory. The Chiefs forwards were dominant during this period, and Gareth Anscombe was just as impressive in the flyhalf position.
Anscombe succeeded in converting all attempts on goal, and it was because of his accuracy that the Chiefs went to the break with a commanding 19-6 lead. He finished the evening with a personal tally of 17 points.
As the game progressed, the Chiefs failed to maintain their intensity and discipline. They should have put the Rebels away in the first half, and then pushed for a four-try bonus point in the second stanza. As it was, they blew several opportunities through poor handling and decision-making.
The Rebels fought their way back into the game, first through the boot of Jason Woodward, and then through a try by hooker Shota Horie. For much of the second half, the Rebels trailed the Chiefs by six points.
But like the Chiefs, the Rebels battled to control possession at the crucial moment. Their poor discipline at the breakdown eventually led to a the sin-binning of captain Scott Higginbotham. They fought hard despite the numerical disadvantage, but still conceded three points during this period.
The momentum was with the Rebels in the final 10 minutes, but they failed to make this count on the scoreboard. Woodward missed a penalty attempt in the 73rd minute, and then the Rebels blew a golden opportunity to score three minutes later.
The Chiefs were on a final warning for repeated infringements, and it was replacement prop Pauliasi Manu who was shown a yellow card. Somehow the Chiefs managed to stifle the Rebels from 5m out, and then secure the turnover.
They may boast a reputation for their attacking play, but it was their defence that clinched the result on this occasion.
Chiefs – Try: Michael Fitzgerald. Conversion: Gareth Anscombe. Penalties: Anscombe (5).
Rebels – Try: Shota Horie. Conversion: Jason Woodward. Penalties: Woodward (3).
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mils Muliaina, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick (c), 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Ross Filipo, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.
Rebels – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images