The Chiefs beat the Rebels 27-14 in Melbourne last night to cement themselves at the top of the Super Rugby standings.
The Chiefs led 7-3 at half-time and sealed the scrappy bonus point win with two tries in the final four minutes.
The scoreline flattered the lucky visitors who didn’t perform up to their usual standards.
With rumours continuing to swirl that the Rebels might be cut from Super Rugby in 2018,
they delivered their best showing of the season against the unbeaten Chiefs – rated among the title favourites.
After leaking 127 points in their opening two games, the winless Rebels regrouped after the bye and put their bodies on the line to push the visitors to the wire.
They scrapped for every ball, with their flankers Jordy Reid and Colby Fainga’a getting the better of the Chiefs at the breakdown.
However, Chiefs flanker Sam Cane collected the points when it counted, scoring in the 77th minute to seal the hard-fought victory, before fullback Shaun Stevenson added a bonus-point try before the final whistle.
The Rebels trailed 7-3 at halftime after three missed penalties by Reece Hodge but hit the front three minutes into the second half through winger Marika Koroibete.
The former Melbourne NRL flyer ran onto a cutout pass from five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop and dived across in the corner for his first Super Rugby try.
The home side pushed that out to 11-7 through a Garden-Bachop penalty and had their tails up.
But the Chiefs, who had to overcome two yellow cards, played a patient game and started to grind Melbourne down.
They took the lead through Test lock Brodie Retallick after a rolling maul, before the Rebels levelled at 14-14 with another penalty.
However, at the business end, Melbourne weren’t able to go with the Chiefs, with Cane and then Stevenson’s late effort making sealing the ugly win.
Earlier last night the second placed Crusaders continued their series of great escapes with a 33-24 comeback win over the Blues in their Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Trailing 21-5 at half-time, the Crusaders’ forwards lifted their work-rate and late tries to Mitch Hunt and Mitchell Drummond ensured the home side maintained their perfect start to the season.
The Crusaders have now conceded big leads in three successive matches but roared home in all of them.
First five Hunt slotted a penalty after the siren to give them a last-gasp win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane last week, and the team rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin the week before.
The Blues flew out of the blocks, with inside centre George Moala scoring a brace of tries in the first half.
Winger Matt Duffie was a livewire, setting up a number of attacking forays and scrumhalf Augustine Pulu scored the second try half an hour into the game.
But the Blues’ hopes of a first win in Christchurch in 13 years were gradually ground to dust after the break and they have now lost three of their first four matches.
The Crusaders had their first try from winger Manasa Mataele in the 25th minute but ramped up their game when loose forward Peter Samu crossed for their second 10 minutes into the second half.
Replacement prop Ben Funnell rumbled over at the back of a rolling maul six minutes later after the Blues finally collapsed under pressure from a string of penalties near their try-line.
Blues flyhalf Piers Francis, who replaced the demoted Ihaia West, missed a regulation penalty to give the Blues breathing space and the Crusaders duly capitalised.
After another rumble toward the line from their forwards, Hunt darted over near the right corner and converted his try to put the Crusaders in front in the 72nd minute.
The Blues’ resistance was broken, and their demoralised defence fell away, allowing replacement scrumhalf Drummond to scoop up the ball from a ruck, feign a pass and leap over the line in the last minute to wrap up the win.