Gareth Anscombe stepped comfortably into the boots of injured All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden, creating a try and kicking 17 points to steer the Chiefs to a 22-16 win over the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby yesterday.
Anscombe moved into the No. 10 jersey from fullback to replace Cruden, who is sidelined for six weeks with a broken thumb, and played a substantial role in the Chiefs’ fourth win from seven games this season.
He made a break which led to a first-half try to lock Michael Fitzgerald, converted that try and kicked five penalties to maintain a perfect kicking record.
Japan international hooker Shota Horia scored a try for the Rebels, who rallied from 19-6 down at halftime to place themselves in a winning position, but could not close out their first-ever win outside Australia.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs started strongly, racing to a 19-0 lead after 24 minutes with Fitzgerald’s try, Anscombe’s conversion and four penalties.
However, they lost momentum from that point and were fortunate to hold out the Rebels, who were appreciably stronger in the second half. Melbourne, at the same time, had a strong winning opportunity when they closed within six points, but were unable to finish, despite a series of penalties and set pieces near the Chiefs’ line.
“I thought the first 20 minutes gave us a great platform, then the Rebels are a good side and they came back and put us under pressure,” said Liam Messam, who finished as Chiefs captain after lock Brodie Retallick, who started as captain, was forced from the field with a concussion.
“Brodie was pretty good,” Messam said. “He was pretty nervous when he found out during the week that he was captain, but he led by example and I thought he did an outstanding job.”
The Chiefs once again showed their ability to win in adversity, a feature which has underpinned their title victories in each of the past two sessions. They have an outstanding ability to cope in the event of injuries, and Anscombe’s move to flyhalf yesterday reinforced the appreciation of that strength.
He kicked penalties in the second, sixth and 12th minutes to give the Chiefs an early 9-0 lead then made a break, linking with flanker Sam Cane, to create Fitzgerald’s try in the 16th minute. His fourth penalty in the 24th minute gave the Chiefs a commanding 19-0 lead.
The Rebels fought back superbly, opening the second half with Horia’s try and closing to 22-16 as fullback Jason Woodward kicked four goals from four attempts. However, Woodward missed a crucial chance in the 71st minute, and the Rebels were unable to take advantage when the Chiefs were reduced to 14 men in the last few minutes.
“We didn’t start well and the Chiefs did that, then we just panicked at the end there,” Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin at a critical stage for his team.
“It’s not good enough. It’s just a bit of lack of experience,” he said.
Cult hero Nick Cummins bagged a hat-trick of tries to fire the Western Force to a dominant 28-16 victory over the New South Wales Waratahs in Perth yesterday to extend the home side’s franchise record win streak to five Super rugby matches.
After crossing for his first try in the 26th minute, frizzy-haired winger Cummins bolted the length of the field to clinch his second from an intercept nine minutes after halftime.