Lions review: the good, the bad and the deja vu
The Wellington Lions finished yet another NPC campaign without any silverware to show for their endeavour. But there was still plenty of lustre about their season, as Hamish Bidwell reports.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Tim Bateman. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen won the official Lions award this week, but Bateman was tops at The Dominion Post. Despite being a midfield back by trade, and playing outside occasionally erratic halfback Frae Wilson, Bateman was sensational at first five-eighth. Lima Sopoaga is a legitimate Super Rugby No 10, but was unable to wrest the jersey off Bateman.
The 33-17 demolition of Taranaki. Well, the first 56 minutes of it, anyway, when the Lions roared out to a 33-0 lead.
It was only some second half substitutions that slowed Wellington's momentum, against a side who pushed Canterbury to extra time the following week.
Has to be the 33-22 semifinal defeat to Auckland. The Lions never got going, which was doubly galling given the significance of the occasion.
Bateman's try against Taranaki summed up everything that was good about the Lions this year. He started and finished a movement, with good contributions from Ross Filipo and Reggie Goodes in between, that featured speed, skill and brains.
MOST INFLUENTIAL PLAYER:
Tempting to say referee Bryce Lawrence. Wellington only lost three games this season: one to eventual champions Canterbury and then the two Lawrence-controlled clashes with Auckland.
But the guy who moulded the team in his own image this year was captain Jeremy Thrush. A bit of a goofball in days gone by, the lock now has a genuine presence about him.
MOST PROMISING PLAYER:
Ardie Savea. Toomaga-Allen, Goodes, Matt Proctor and Eric Sione are among a group of players, along with the injured Brad Shields, who could lift Wellington rugby to great heights. Savea seems a once-in-a-generation player, though.
MOST UNDER-RATED PLAYER:
Alapati Leiua's language skills mean he has a low media profile, but he continues to be one of the soundest backs around. Able to cover midfield and the wing, Leiua makes few errors in either spot and his ability at the breakdown is reminiscent of Tana Umaga.
Dane Coles thoroughly deserves his All Black selection. Few blokes make playing rugby look as much fun as Coles does and if there's some niggle in a game, he's never far away. A likeable rogue, if ever there was one. Congrats, too, to Chris Boyd, who has succeeded Rob Penney as head coach of the New Zealand under-20 team.
If you don't watch Wellington games in person, then it's easy to overlook the contribution of Scott Fuglistaller. With the cameras following the ball it's impossible to see the little bloke in the No 7 jersey checking to see if all his limbs are intact, after taking another kicking from the opposition pack.
The Melbourne Rebels-bound Fuglistaller had the unenviable task of always putting his body in harm's way and his selfless attitude will be missed.
DON'T SWEAT IT:
Despite throwing an intercept pass, which brought to mind a tradesman lobbing a brick into a skip, Ross Filipo should rest easy over the summer. Filipo was horror-stricken that his pass contributed to the Lions losing their semifinal to Auckland. Truth is, Wellington were already struggling and Filipo's season will be remembered for more than that.