Rugby: Chiefs back on top after Rebels romp

By Kris Shannon

Chiefs 36 Rebels 15
The Chiefs celebrate Toni Pulu's try during their win over the Rebels. Photo / Getty
The Chiefs celebrate Toni Pulu's try during their win over the Rebels. Photo / Getty

After stumbling into their bye on the back of defeat, the Chiefs tonight found a much firmer footing to return to the top of the Super Rugby table.

Dave Rennie's men rode an explosive first half to a bonus-point victory over the Rebels in Hamilton, offering enough evidence that their once-fearsome attack was almost back to its lethal best.

A sloppy second spell was a different story, leaving the coach in an ambivalent mood, and far tougher tests than tonight await after the international break, when derbies against the Crusaders and Highlanders could determine the fate of the Kiwi conference.

But a convincing victory was needed to arrest the downward trend the Chiefs had been displaying and Rennie was more than satisfied with being back on top.

"That's what we set out to do," he said. "It's funny - if we'd had stuttered our way through the first half and had a swashbuckling second half, we'd probably be quite buoyant.

But when it happens the other way round there's a fair bit of frustration. But that's not a bad thing - we've got high expectations."

Those expectations were more than met in the opening 40 minutes, with the Chiefs not quite running rampant but coming pretty close as they romped to a match-winning advantage. Almost everything was working for the home side as they ripped apart the Rebels defence ease, perhaps unfortunate to cross only four times.

The Chiefs lost their fluency after the break as the game petered out to a predicable conclusion and, while the damage had been done, Rennie was unhappy with his charges being unable to completely kill off the game.

"It must have been an inspirational halftime team talk," he joked. "The first 35 minutes we were really sharp, showed good intensity, built pressure and scored from that. But we just never really got going in the second half and that was disappointing."

Upon reflection, though, the positives meant that feeling would linger for only so long. Possessing a solid set piece throughout, the Chiefs also showed a far greater willingness to treasure the ball than they had before their bye.

They initially found space through repeat phases and built pressure by pushing the Rebels from from side to side, displaying a clinical touch when within striking distance, exemplified as Nathan Harris adroitly capitalised on Aaron Cruden's grubber and Brad Weber linked well with Toni Pulu for a third try.

There were still elements of inaccuracy in their game, particularly in the second half, but it was hard to quibble when the Chiefs began so effective in possession. With players like James Lowe dancing down the left wing, leading to the Chiefs' fourth through Cruden, the odd error was easily forgiven.

The Rebels, on the other hand, were adequate but uninspiring with ball in hand. The difference between the sides was obvious in the 16-1 offloading count alone. Where the Chiefs were always willing to keep the ball alive, seeking to pop the pass that would turn a promising break into points, the Rebels played it safe and found little reward.

The visitors would have at least been boosted by largely shackling the Chiefs in the second spell. The final margin was nowhere near as comprehensive as it could have been, and Rennie did hold concerns around the health of try-scoring second five Seta Tamanivalu (ankle) and workhorse No 8 Michael Leitch (hand), but the job was done and the Chiefs were back where they have spent much of the season.

Chiefs 36 (S. Tamanivalu, N. Harris, T. Pulu, A. Cruden, A. Horrell tries; A. Cruden 3 cons, pen, D. McKenzie con)
Rebels 15 (M. Harris, R. Hodge tries; M. Harris pen, con)
Halftime: 26-3

- NZ Herald

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