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Rebels hold off Chiefs' fightback

Published 02/05/2015

Australia international Scott Higginbotham scored one of the Rebels' two tries
Australia international Scott Higginbotham scored one of the Rebels' two tries

The Rebels survived a second-half comeback by the Chiefs to win 16-15 in Melbourne and keep their hopes of reaching the Super Rugby play-offs alive.

Trailing 16-3 at half-time at AAMI Park, the Chiefs hit back with second-half tries from Charlie Ngatai and Michael Leitch but could not score again to secure a fifth successive win.

The victory was the Rebels' fifth of the season - a feat they have only achieved once before, in 2013 - and they will go into their final six games believing that a play-off place is a distinct possibility.

Fly-half Jack Debreczeni kicked a fifth-minute penalty to put the Rebels 3-0 ahead after five minutes and skipper Scott Higginbotham dived over in the corner after fine scrummage play midway through the first half to score the opening try of the game.

Andrew Horrell, filling in at fly-half for long-term injury absentee Aaron Cruden, kicked a 22nd-minute penalty to put the Chiefs on the board and reduce the Rebels' lead to 8-3.

Debreczeni restored the Rebels' eight-point advantage when he kicked a second penalty shortly after the half-hour mark, and the hosts went into the break 16-3 ahead when scrum-half Nic Stirzaker crossed for their second try moments before the hooter.

The Chiefs began the second half brightly and, after flanker Sam Cane was held up on the try line, Ngatai pounced on a fine grubber-kick from Tim Nanai-Williams to score their first try. Replacement Damian McKenzie kicked the conversion from a tight angle to reduce the arrears to 16-10.

The Chiefs defended resolutely amid a subsequent sustained spell of pressure from the Rebels and drew to within one point of their opponents with 11 minutes left when a lightning-quick counter-attack resulted in loose forward Leitch crossing the whitewash.

McKenzie missed the chance to put the Chiefs into the lead for the first time in the match when his conversion attempt cannoned off a post and captain Liam Messam's late trip to the sin bin prevented the New Zealand side from completing what would have been a remarkable comeback victory.

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