Wellington did what they had to do, but probably not a lot more, in beating Taranaki 33-17 at Westpac Stadium yesterday.
Tasked with having to win to secure themselves a home NPC Premiership semifinal this Saturday, the Lions did that easily enough.
Up 33-0 with 24 minutes to play, Wellington lost a bit of accuracy and momentum but were still much too good for an unimpressive Taranaki side.
As so often is the case, it was going to the bench that spoiled the contest. From being in total command, the substitutions of Tim Bateman, Dane Coles and Scott Fuglistaller led to the decline in Wellington's play.
Squad rotation is an important part of the game and some guys do need a spell and others some activity off the bench. But sometimes you wonder if spectators should only be charged for a 60-minute contest because, invariably, the final quarter of the match is not worth the admission price.
Taranaki scored both their tries, to lock Jason Eaton and replacement wing James Marshall, in that final 20 minutes, to give the final scoreline an evenness which wasn't especially warranted.
"Apart from the last 10 minutes - very happy," was how Wellington coach Chris Boyd summed up his feelings.
"The game was won with 10 minutes to go but, still, we talk about personal standards and that was poor. But it would be wrong to focus on the last 10 minutes when I thought the other 70 were a pretty fair effort."
It's a reasonable point Boyd makes. But the end of the game was sloppy and definitely didn't impress Lions captain Jeremy Thrush, who knows better will be required if his team are to claim a title which has eluded them since 2000.
"That last 10 minutes you could tell the boys were a bit tired and I was a bit disappointed with some of [them] that came off the bench. They normally bring a bit of energy and some of them I don't think did that," Thrush said.
Thankfully the first-stringers had done the job required of them and Taranaki's late dab was only an exercise in face-saving. They'd been dominated by Wellington till that point, thanks to the flood of possession twin fetchers Fuglistaller and Ardie Savea had been able to secure and the guile of first five-eighth Tim Bateman.
Preferred at 10 ahead of Lima Sopoaga, Bateman scored the first try of the match in the 19th minute. It was a movement that summed up everything that's great about Bateman, as his vision took him down a narrow blindside where he expertly put flanker Ross Filipo on the outside of the Taranaki defenders.
From there, Bateman backed up and after Filipo fed prop Reggie Goodes, the first-five was the man lurking inside to take the final pass and score. Fuglistaller scored a deserved try 11 minutes later, after good work from wing Jason Woodward and second five-eighth Shaun Treeby as Wellington went to halftime ahead 17-0.
Two Woodward tries after the break sealed the win and the bonus point, before things degenerated a touch.
Taranaki had gone into the match without a genuine No 7, leaving Fuglistaller and Savea to have a field day. But Boyd said that while pairing the two lightweights had been the right ploy for Taranaki, it might not be tried again when the Lions host Auckland in Saturday's semifinal.
WELLINGTON 33 TARANAKI 17
- © Fairfax NZ News
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