After five games in the regular season, the Chiefs were rock bottom in the New Zealand conference and lost their star fullback, Damian McKenzie. On the other hand, the Rebels were the form team in the Australian conference.
The Melbourne Rebels may have lost to the Hurricanes but they believe a staunch fightback will mark a turnaround in their Super Rugby fortunes.
Coach Dave Wessels reckons the Melbourne Rebels rediscovered themselves in Wellington.
The only problem is it came too late to prevent a 29-19 Super Rugby loss to the Hurricanes which leaves the race for the Australian Conference wide open.
Melbourne remain top, but only on points differential from the Brumbies following a third straight defeat.
Yet Wessels was taking plenty from a plucky performance away to the power-packed Hurricanes, who had roared to a 26-0 lead after 21 minutes.
Three second-half tries to the stung Rebels lifted them within sight of victory entering the final 10 minutes.
It left them feeling more optimistic than after dispiriting losses to the Stormers and Waratahs.
“The whole theme of our week was to find our game again,” Wessels said.
“The last two games, we didn’t feel we played well so the focus in the second half was just to play the way we wanted to play and get some flow back into our game.”
Melbourne gradually took command of the tight exchanges, leading to a mortgage on possession and a flow of penalties against the Hurricanes, who were fortunate not to concede a yellow card.
Wessels wants to use the compelling finish as a springboard into Melbourne’s final six games, including four at home, starting with the Queensland Reds on Friday.
“I think we can beat anybody on our day when we’re in flow and we’re playing well,” he said.
“Mostly I’m pleased that we showed resilience and the willingness to compete and stay at it because that sets us up well now for the next couple of weeks.”
Fullback Dane Haylett-Petty, who missed the last six games with injury, was proud his team didn’t lower their heads after conceding four early tries to the Beauden Barrett-inspired hosts.
“When you come under that sort of pressure, you tend to be a little bit stunned,” he said.
“That’s definitely something we’d been working on coming out of the Waratahs, where we didn’t show enough resilience.”