Chiefs keep their hopes alive of depending their Super 15 title.
Defending champions Waikato Chiefs scored six tries to just squeak home 39-33 over the Melbourne Rebels in a breathless Super 15 game in Melbourne.
The tournament’s leading points scorer Gareth Anscombe crossed for three tries and kicked three conversions and a penalty goal for 24 points as the Chiefs gained maximum points to take over the lead in the New Zealand conference.
The New Zealanders were on track for a handsome win with their bonus point fourth try and a 24-7 lead after just 27 minutes, but the Rebels ran them close when they monopolised possession and territory in the second half.
The home side got to within a converted try of pulling off an amazing win only for the Chiefs to hang on for victory with the Rebels pounding their try-line.
It was more heartbreak for the Rebels who went down narrowly in a high-scoring thriller for their third straight game after losing 30-26 to the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch and 30-27 to the Southern Kings at home.
But a positive for the Rebels was the successful return of troubled Wallaby Kurtley Beale after missing six matches through injury and club disciplinary action for punching two teammates following Melbourne’s 64-7 loss to the Sharks in Durban.
Beale came on in the 48th minute and scored a solo try five minutes from the end which gave the Rebels late hope of victory.
Fullback Anscombe was over for his fourth try in the final minutes of the match only for it to be overruled by the technical match official for a knock-on in the lead-up.
Anscombe has now scored 163 points in nine games for the Chiefs to top the Super 15 point scorers this season.
He was in on the action as the Chiefs raced in four tries in a lively opening against the tackle-shy Rebels and led 24-14 at half-time.
The Chiefs always looked in control of the contest with further tries to Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick in the second half, but the Rebels doggedly refused to give in and further tries to Hugh Pyle, Nick Phipps and Beale gave them a glimmer of victory in the closing minutes.
“We do well to fight back after our mid-game slumps but it’s still something that we need to address,” Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke said.
“Gareth Anscombe is a good fullback for us. He’s good with ball in hand and he’s kicking goals, which is great to tick the points over for us.”
Rebels Captain Scott Higginbotham was optimistic about upcoming games.
“Twice in a row we’ve put ourselves in the deep end at the start of the game, but the positive side is that we’re fighting out of that and coming close and the next couple of games we’re going to put it on them,” he said.
The Rebels, who have now slipped to 2-8 this season, take on the Blues in Auckland next week, while the Chiefs are at home to Australia’s Western Force.