Hamilton - The Chiefs have beaten the Melbourne Rebels 22-16 (halftime 19-6) in their Super Rugby match on Saturday.
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 victory.
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 couldn't 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 and Anscombe's conversion and four penalties.
But 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 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 the ability to win in adversity, a feature which has underpinned their title victories in each of the last two sessions. They have an outstanding ability to cope in the event of injuries and Anscombe's move to flyhalf on Saturday 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 which made 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. But 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.
Tries: Michael Fitzgerald
Conversions: Gareth Anscombe
Penalties: Anscombe (5)
Tries: Shota Horie
Conversions: Jason Woodward
Penalties: Woodward (3)
15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mils Muliaina, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Brodie Retallick (captain), 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Ross Filipo, 20 Liam Messam , 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.
15 Jason Woodward, 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Substitutes: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emilie, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Sean McMahon, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom Kingston, 23 Angus Roberts