The Chiefs moved back to the top of the Australasian group log with a 36-15 bonus-point win against the Rebels in Hamilton. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The five log points take the Chiefs one clear of the Crusaders, who beat the Waratahs 24 hours earlier but missed out on the bonus point.
The Chiefs suffered a disappointing loss to the Highlanders two weeks ago, just their second of the season, but the bye seemed to do them good as they came out firing on Saturday. A slippery surface made the ball a bit greasy, but you wouldn't have known it by the way the hosts handled it during the first half.
The Chiefs only had 43% of the possession in that period, according to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, but made the most of it, scoring four tries. They did well to keep the ball alive in the tackle, making eight offloads while the Rebels made none. The visitors' defence also let them down in the first half as they missed 12 tackles. When the half-time whistle blew, the Chiefs were ahead 26-3 and the game was effectively over.
The second half was a scrappy affair. The Rebels scored a try early on and while they would enjoy plenty of possession and territory, they never looked like staging a miraculous comeback. Late tries from both sides meant the Chiefs were able to stay three tries ahead and secure the bonus point.
It took the Chiefs just four minutes to score their first try of this match. A good lineout driving maul got them into the Rebels' 22 with one-off runners then attacking around the fringes of the breakdown. After five phases, the Chiefs sent the ball wide to Seta Tamanivalu, who stepped inside two defenders and dived over. Aaron Cruden slotted the conversion.
Mike Harris opened the Rebels' account with a penalty goal, but the Chiefs struck again soon after when Nathan Harris chased down Cruden's grubber into the deadball area.
The hosts' third try came in the 24th minute when, after some good ball-carrying by the forwards, Brad Webber threw a dummy that committed two defenders next to the breakdown and then a short pass to Toni Pulu that put the winger over from close range.
The Chiefs struck again on the half-hour mark, fielding a kick on their 10m line and attacking down the left-hand side to get within inches of the Rebels tryline. Webber cleared the ball quickly from the ruck to Cruden, whose converted try made it 26-3.
The Rebels thought they had scored their first try, just before half-time, when Tom English dived over in the left-hand corner but TV replays showed that the pass from Jack Debreczeni had gone forward. However, they did get over five minutes into the second half when Harris broke through two poor tackle attempts from Cruden and Taleni Seu.
Siegfried Fisi'ihoi crashed over for the Chiefs soon after, but the try was disallowed after TV replays showed that James Lowe had put a foot into touch during the buildup.
Cruden finally got the Chiefs' first points of the second half with a 70th-minute penalty goal, before Andrew Horrell dived over for his side's fifth try as the match sparked back to life.
The Rebels then scored their second try when a mistake from Damian McKenzie allowed Harris to counter-attack from inside his half and send Reece Hodge away.
Chiefs – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Nathan Harris, Toni Pulu, Aaron Cruden, Andrew Horrell. Conversions: Cruden (3), Damian McKenzie. Penalty: Cruden.
Rebels – Tries: Mike Harris, Reece Hodge. Conversion: Harris. Penalty: Harris.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Bred Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Sam Vaka.
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Colby Fainga’a, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Jonah Placid, 23 Kotaro Matsushima.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images