The Melbourne Rebels have upset the highly-rated Chiefs 16-15 to again push their case for a maiden Super Rugby finals berth.
The Rebels held off the visitors in a thrilling finale to seal victory at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The fourth-placed Chiefs scored a try through Michael Leitch in the 69th minute, but replacement kicker Damien McKenzie missed the conversion that would have given his team the lead.
The Rebels then came achingly close to a third try but couldn’t cross the white line, with Chiefs skipper Liam Messam yellow-carded for being off-side as he tried to stop the onslaught.
The visitors then conceded a scrum penalty with 30 seconds left on the clock and although the penalty kick by Jack Debreczeni hit the upright, the Rebels were able to boot it into touch for the win.
The Chiefs went into the match missing injured key players – All Blacks Aaron Cruden and Brodie Retallick – but the Rebels also lost Wallabies back-rower Sean McMahon midway through the first half with a hip injury, while fullback Mike Harris was ruled out before kick-off with a corked leg.
A key moment in the clash came in the 34th minute when the Chiefs looked to have scored a try which would have levelled the score at 8-8.
However play was called back and Chiefs winger James Lowe was yellow-carded for alleged foul play when he appeared to kick the back of Rebels centre Tamati Ellison.
Debreczeni kicked a penalty goal and then just before halftime, with the Chiefs still a man down, halfback Nic Stirzaker scooted through the defence off the back of a line-out for a 16-3 lead.
Melbourne’s defence was heavily tested early in the second half and finally cracked in the 58th minute when centre Charlie Ngatai ran on to a grubber from Tim Nanai-Williams, which Rebels winger Sefa Naivalu made a mess of.
McKenzie added the extras to put the Chiefs, aiming for their fifth successive win, within a converted try of the lead.
That came through Leitch but with McKenzie unable to add the extra points they fell short.