Wellington pile the pain on Canterbury

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Sunday, September 17, 2017    Ben Fawkes    Getty Images

Canterbury came into the match having scored 78 points in consecutive weeks, while Wellington entered the game top of the Championship standings, with last weekend’s two point loss to Tasman the only blemish on their record.
A howling wind in the capital meant conditions were a challenge, with Canterbury having the first chance with the gale at their backs.

The Premiership leaders were completely dominant in the opening exchanges and could have scored twice within the first two minutes, with Wellington only saved by Canterbury handling errors with the line open.

But it was the home side that scored first, completely against the run of play.
First-five eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop intercepted a pass close to his own line, before feeding Julian Savea to race over to celebrate his debut as Wellington captain with a try under the posts.

Wellington was in again minutes later when Asafo Aumua showed why he is being touted as a potential All Blacks end of year tour apprentice.

The 20-year-old hooker scored a try that most outside backs would have been proud of. Receiving a wide ball out on the wing, just inside the Canterbury half, he stood up fullback George Bridge and then beat the cover defence to score a superb long-range try. 

Unbeaten in all five matches this year, Canterbury were in unfamiliar territory, but responded well, working their way patiently into the Wellington 22, before creating space to put left wing Josh McKay over in the corner and reduce the deficit to seven points.

But Wellington was unphased, and were the better side through the remainder of the half. 

The big, physical home pack battered away at the Canterbury defence, retaining possession for long periods and a superb long-distance penalty from Garden-Bachop extended the lead to 10 at halftime.

In contrast, Canterbury seemed uncertain and flustered, their play littered with uncharacteristic handling errors.

Spectators had been encouraged to bring their dogs, as part of an SPCA fundraiser, and the crowd and their pooches could sniff a major upset at the break.

The game had barely restarted when Wellington crossed again.
Lock Isiaia Walker-Leawere charging down first-five eighth Brett Cameron’s clearance from the kickoff , which he collect to score untouched.

Another charge down gifted Wellington their second try of the half, reserve loose forward Du’Plessis Kirifi was rewarded for a strong kick chase, punishing McKay for lingering over his clearing kick and pushing the lead out to 24 points after 50 minutes.

As the conditions worsened from strong wind to heavy, driving rain, the onus fell on the Canterbury forwards to lead the comeback and they briefly delivered, a solid five-metre scrum set the platform for Bridge to score from a clever midfield move. 

Canterbury have staged many a dramatic comeback against Wellington during the last fifteen years, but the Lions kept their composure, using Garden-Bachop’s reliable boot to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Wellington competed hard at the break down, while lock Sam Lousi was a colossus in the mauls, repeatedly holding up Canterbury ball carriers to force turnovers.

A brace to left wing Malo Tuitama and a tries to fullback Ben Lam and second five-eighth Regan Verney completed the demolition, stamping out any (brief) home fears of a comeback.

Three after relegation to provincial rugby’s second tier, the home crowd and their four-legged friends would have left the Cake tin with renewed hope that 2017 will be the year that Wellington finally returns to the Premiership.


Wellington 60 (Julian Savea, Asafo Aumua, Isaia Walker-Leaware, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Malo Tuitama 2, Ben Lam, Regan Verney tries, Jackson Garden-Bachop 6 con, 2 pen) Canterbury 14 (Josh McKay, George Bridge tries, Richie Mo’unga 2 con)
HT: 17-7