Rebels 14 Chiefs 27

The Chiefs remained unbeaten and moved back to the top of the Super Rugby table - but that's about where the positives ended on a lamentable night in Melbourne.

Having stormed to the top of the competition with three victories over their compatriots in the Kiwi conference, the Chiefs tonight produced their worst performance of the season and were fortunate to escape with victory over the last-placed Rebels.

The leaders looked anything but at AAMI Park, trailing throughout the second half until Damian McKenzie kicked his side ahead with six minutes to play and enabled the Chiefs to finish with a flourish.

Even the Rebels must have been a little bemused by how much their opposition battled. They had, after all, opened their campaign by conceding 18 tries in two games, before tonight being made to look like defensive dynamos against a Chiefs team that had proven so deadly on this side of the Tasman.

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While coach Dave Rennie had opted to shuffle his selection after such an arduous start to the season, that offered no excuse for the lack of discipline and lack of fluidity that regularly proved the Chiefs' undoing.

Early penalties and continual mistakes meant the Chiefs were rarely able to string together phases, never managing to ignite their high-powered attack and failing to implement a plan B.

Fortunately for Rennie, his players did eventually build enough pressure to produce 20 points in the final 15 minutes, with Brodie Retallick's try sparking his side to life and, after McKenzie's penalty, Sam Cane and Shaun Stevenson adding some undeserved gloss.

It could have been a different story but for the wayward boot of Reece Hodge. With the Chiefs committing six penalties and seeing Liam Messam sent to the sin bin in the opening quarter alone, Hodge missed three straightforward penalties, each simpler than the previous.

That inaccuracy enabled the Chiefs to take a narrow lead to halftime through Dominic Bird's try, a scrappy effort that matched the first 40 minutes from both sides.

Having fallen behind in the second spell when Marika Koroibete raced along the sideline, the Chiefs' sudden desperation was shown when they turned down an attacking chance to take a shot at goal, only for McKenzie to miss an easy opportunity.

The visitors were soon facing a four-point deficit and, when debutant Solomona Alaimalo earned his side's second yellow card of the match, the Rebels were on the verge of an incredible upset. But the Chiefs of recent weeks reappeared in the dying stages, sparing their blushes and even managing to secure a bonus point.

Rebels 14 (M. Koroibete try; J. Garden-Bachop 3 pens)
Chiefs 27 (B. Retallick, D. Bird, S. Cane, S. Stevenson tries; D. McKenzie con, pen)
Halftime: 3-7