Chiefs win in 11-try feast
The Chiefs held on in the face of a powerful late rally from the Rebels to score a narrow 39-33 Super Rugby win in Melbourne on Friday.
The Chiefs continued a trend that has marked their performances all season – racing into a lead with some sublime play, only to take the foot off the gas and allow the opposition an opportunity to get back into the game.
As was the case against the Sharks last week, the Chiefs had the four-try bonus point wrapped up inside the first half-hour, going ahead 24-7.
But the never-say-die attitude of the home team saw them claw their way back into the game and in the end had a real chance of an upset – only for a turnover metres from the Chiefs' line robbing the Rebels of victory.
Also, the Chiefs' attack-at-all-costs approach may come back to haunt them in the play-offs, where defences are always more secure.
While it is entertaining and gets results against weaker opposition, teams will have worked out a counter come the August play-offs.
In the end, the visitors outscored the home team by six tries to five.
It took the Chiefs just 55 seconds to get on the board – coming from a mistake by the rebels at the kick-off and they just spread it from side-to-side till Gareth Anscombe was in space and he sprinted over for the opening try. Anscombe, from out wide, pulled the conversion attempt – but it was 5-0 and a sign of things to come.
The Chiefs' second try came inside the opening 10 minutes, as they continue to dominate the early exchanges. This time it was poor defence by the Rebels that saw Bundi Aki slip straight through a hole to score under the posts. Anscombe added the extras and it was 12-0.
The Rebels eventually regained their composure after a horrible start and some great interplay between captain Scott Higginbotham and wing Tom English, before Higginbotham scored the Rebels' opening try – which required several views by the TMO, who had a possible forward pass and the grounding to rule on. Once the call came back that the try was good, James O'Connor's conversion made it 7-12.
However, the Chiefs showed their ability to exploit any lapse in defence, with Anscombe getting his second try, and the Chiefs' third, in the 21st minute – with prop Pauliasi Manu prominent in creating the extra man over and showing some good hands. Anscombe's conversion made it 19-7.
Anscombe completed his hat-trick five minutes later, after Tim Nanai-Williams stepped out of a very poor tackle and raced downfield before off-loading to the fullback, who did the rest. Anscombe was wide with the conversion attempt, but at 24-7 the early rout continued and the bonus point was already in the bag.
The Rebels continued to fight bravely and after working the ball through numerous phases and into the Chiefs 22, Hugh Pyle's long reach eventually saw him stretch over the line for the home team's second try four minutes from the break. O'Connor made it a 10-point game (14-24) with the conversion.
The Chiefs were lucky to have finished the half with all 15 players still on the field, after lock Brodie Retallick was caught throwing a 'swinging arm', with the referee ruling that he was "lucky" they couldn't see where it connected. In the end he awarded only a penalty and the visitors hung onto that 10-point lead going into the break.
It didn't take the visitors long to get the scoreboard moving after the break – a series of powerful scrums close to the Rebels line, which included a warning against the home team for repeated infringements, and Sam Cane strolled over for the fifth try after the Rebels' defence disappeared into thin air. Anscombe added the extras – 31-14, with just over half-an-hour left on the clock.
The Rebels again fought back to make it a 10-point game (21-31), after Pyle again used his length to stretch over the line – a try that came through consistent ball-in-hand pressure by the Rebels.
Anscombe pulled three points back, with a in-off-the-posts penalty, before the Rebels got their bonus-point try – Nick Phipps going over after a move created by the terrible twins, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale. O'Connor drew a couple of defenders, before putting Beale into space on his inside. O'Connor couldn't add the extras , but at 26-34 there was still hope for the Rebels.
O'Connor turned from hero to villain in an instant, when Brodie Retallick charged down his attempted clearance after the restart, pounced on the ball and scored a sixth try for the Chiefs. Anscombe's conversion attempt again hit the upright, but this time bounce into the wrong direction – 39-26 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
With five minutes left on the clock Beale made the most of another lapse in concentration by the Chiefs' defence, as he ran on the outside of Craig Clarke to score a try that gave the home team hope. O'Connor made it a six-point (33-39) game with the conversion.
Anscombe though he had his fourth – with two minutes left on the clock – when, from a very simple turnover at a ruck, he sprinted about 40 metres down the left touchline. However, he was called back for a knock-on and the Rebels had one last throw of the dice.
However, the Chiefs held on, winning a crucial turnover by holding up a ball carrier metres from their line after the hooter for full-time had already sound.
Man of the match: Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham was involved in all aspects of the game – sometimes creating the impression he was a lone ranger fighting an entire Chiefs invasion. James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale – when he came on as a second-half replacement – showed what they are capable of in a decent team. Of course there was Gareth Anscombe's hat-trick and then Tim Nanai-Williams also showed his attacking prowess and at times made a mockery of the Rebels' defence. However, our award goes to two players – Chiefs props Ben Tameifuna and Pauliasi Manu, not so much for their set-piece play, but more how they performed in open play with ball in hand.
For the Rebels:
Tries: Higginbotham, Pyle 2, Phipps, Beale
Cons: O'Connor 4
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Anscombe 3, Aki, Cane, Retallick
Cons: Anscombe 3
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Patrick Osborne.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Richard Goswell (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)