A late flurry of 20 points in the final 15 minutes has secured the Gallagher Chiefs a 27-14 win over the Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne and extended their unbeaten start to the season to four wins.
While not at their best throughout the match, the strong finish was enough for a four tries to one bonus point victory that ensures the Chiefs remain at the top of the Super Rugby standings as they head into their bye week.
From the opening whistle the Chiefs showed their intent to play the game at pace but they were met by some well organised defence from the home side early on, which proved to be the case throughout most of the first half.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in the opening quarter with Chiefs first five Damian McKenzie and Rebels second five Reece Hodge missing shots at goal.
After coming away unscathed from plenty of early Gallagher Chiefs pressure, the Rebels slowly worked their way into the game but failed to get anything to show for it as Hodge was off target with two more penalty attempts.
The first points of match finally came in the 23rd minute as the Chiefs rumbled downfield and lock Dominic Bird pounced on a loose ball for a rare try after Tom Sanders had the ball stripped out just a metre from the line.
It was very nearly a double strike when a chip from centre Anton Lienert-Brown saw fullback Shaun Stevenson regather and tip toe down the left wing to score but he was to be denied by the TMO with his foot hitting the white line as he caught the ball.
A yellow card to Liam Messam for infringing at ruck time led to another penalty attempt for the Rebels, and a change in kicker did the trick with first five Jackson Garden-Bachop making the score 7-3 to the Chiefs with 10 to play in first half.
An injury to Toni Pulu then forced a reshuffled to the Gallagher Chiefs backline with Aaron Cruden coming on, McKenzie moving to fullback and Stevenson shifting to the right wing.
The frustrating first half drew to a close with neither side really threatening to add further points and, despite a lot of territory and possession, the Chiefs had to settle for their four-point lead at the break.
A superb start to the second half from the Rebels saw them strike first with wing Marika Koroibete finishing in the left hand corner after a strong midfield break from Number 8 Amanaki Mafi.
The Chiefs looked to have made an instant reply with Damian McKenzie dotting down after a quick throw in from Stephen Donald, but once again on review Stevenson had a foot in touch in the build up.
More good field position for the Rebels ended in another three points from the boot of Garden-Bachop to push the lead out to four points, and Chiefs coach Dave Rennie responded with some fresh legs from the bench.
However, the Chiefs comeback efforts became more difficult when young winger Solomon Alaimalo was yellow carded for a tip tackle as the match neared the three quarter mark.
Still with plenty of time on the clock, a patient build up from the Chiefs saw lock Brodie Retallick barge his way over the line off the back of a strong rolling maul for his second try in two weeks.
McKenzie added his second conversion of the evening to give the Chiefs a three-point buffer but that was quickly wiped out as the Rebels swung back downfield and Garden-Bachop nailed his third penalty to tie the match.
As the match headed into the final 10 minutes the visitors upped their game and began to take control, and it wasn’t long before McKenzie was able to land a penalty which was quickly followed by a well worked try to flanker Sam Cane to give some much needed breathing space.
There was time for one final try with the last play of the match as Lienert-Brown broke clear down the right and drew the last defender to Stevenson who finished off from 40 metres out to seal the bonus point and an important away win.
Gallagher Chiefs 27 (Dominic Bird, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Shaun Stevenson tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, pen) Rebels 14(Marika Koroibete try; Jackson Garden-Bachop 3 pens) HT: 7-3.
The Gallagher Chiefs have a bye next week before returning to FMG Stadium Waikato to take on the Bulls on Saturday 1st April.