On a beautiful night for rugby in Melbourne, the Chiefs have maintained their place at the top of Super Rugby with a hard-fought win over a gallant, but ultimately outclassed Rebels, by 27-14.
The Rebels actually led going into the 20 minutes, and had the Chiefs at 14-14 with only six minutes left, but despite the supportive home crowd, an upset win was snatched away.
The first half in particular was punctuated by a lot of scrappy play, many turnovers and a high number of penalties; the interrupted flow of the game helping the home side more than the visitors.
The match also featured some horrible kicking for goal – both Damien McKenzie and Reece Hodge will be hitting the training track hard next week! Both kicked at just 43 per cent for the match.
Unlike their previous two games, the Rebels stayed in the game throughout, scrapping hard and competing well at the breakdown. As the second half went on they grew in confidence, but in the end they were let down by their scrum not holding up to a powerful Chiefs shunt, twice being pushed off their own ball.
The Chiefs will bank the win but go home wondering where their fluidity went. Their discipline didn’t help; too many penalties given away and two players lost to the bin as well. Coach Dave Rennie later described this as “not respecting the ball, as opposed to not respecting the opposition.”
Because of injury, Damien McKenzie didn’t stay long at flyhalf, but he was still a significant feature in the match. But it has to be said that, most of the Chiefs will not remember this as their best work.
That said, in the final minutes their confidence returned and they managed a couple of tries which not only helped blow the score out, but will also have them leaving Melbourne a little happier.
Clearly it was a much improved effort from the Rebels; more accurate in defence and, aside from some loose passing, offering much more in attack. Their try, to a flying Marika Koroibete, was a beauty and fans will be coming back for more of that.
No 8 Amanaki Mafi had a busy match, very combative and lock Culum Retallick should be very happy with how he stood up to his much vaunted brother Brodie. An improved game too at fly-half from Jackson Garden-Bachop, which should have home fans a little more upbeat about future prospects.
The Rebels and their fans will also be delighted that, at least for 80 minutes the focus was on actual rugby, and not speculation about the future of the franchise, or Will Genia or similar. It was a loss sure, but definitely an honourable one.
Referee Federico Anselmi was a big player in the match, seemingly not wanting to blow so many penalties, but finding plenty all the same. This will be a big work-on for the Chiefs before their next match.
In the end, an expected result, but not by the score most (including this writer) predicted. Contrary to some reports the Rebels are still very much alive and kicking and an enticing clash next week against the Waratahs lies in store.