Anyone hoping for a repeat of last year's Napier thriller would have left disappointed after Wellington opened their Air New Zealand Cup campaign with a dour 30-6 win at Westpac Stadium last night.
Wellington avenged last year's memorable 8-6 loss with a four tries to none win, but would have been disappointed with a mistake-ridden match played in front of 7148 fans.
There was little of the drama that marked the corresponding fixture a year ago but Wellington managed to produce tries to wing Hosea Gear, second five-eighth Michael Hobbs, halfback Alby Mathewson and prop Jacob Ellison to grab five competition points.
The scorers list highlighted the edge the Lions had in terms of match-winning players with Hawke's Bay only occasional looking likely to breach the home side's defence.
Both teams played primarily for field position, but with too many misdirected kicks they failed to assert their dominance.
After Gear's early try the match remained in the balance till midway through the second half when Lions wing Brendan Watt charged down Hawke's Bay fullback Israel Dagg's clearance kick.
The ball ricocheted fortuitously into Hobbs' arms and he cantered 30 metres to put Wellington out to an 18-6 lead.
Mathewson showed his pace to scoot through shortly after from the back of a Wellington lineout win and Ellison's try, from a charge down on fulltime, inflated the margin.
It capped an effort that would have given Lions coach Jamie Joseph enough reason to smile after his side hurdled a potentially tricky opponent.
His pack did what was required, prop John Schwalger prominent in defence and lock Jeremy Thrush running strongly with ball in hand.
His untried five-eighths combination of Dan Kirkpatrick and Hobbs was a partial success, the former making a nervous start before settling into the game.
Hobbs was relatively quiet, but will have been buoyed by his crucial try, while centre Tamati Ellison looked sharp, but too often received the ball too far behind the gain line.
Hawke's Bay coach Peter Russell would have been pleased with his side's efforts in defence, bar the final 20 minutes.
There will be concern that the Magpies dropped off the pace dramatically in the closing stages.
There were solid efforts from lock Matt Egan and No8 George Naoupu in the pack, but not enough decisiveness from the backs.
Hawke's Bay's cause suffered a blow when openside flanker Karle Lowe left the field early in the second half with an injury.
Wellington made all the early running the forward pack dominating possession and after sustained pressure that stretched the Magpies from side to side, wing Hosea Gear scored out wide for a 5-0 lead. It seemed all too easy for the Lions and so it proved as the Hawke's Bay pack got into their work with former Wellingtonian Matt Egan and hooker Hika Elliot prominent. Wellington led 8-0 after a 40m Kirkpatrick penalty, but it was a flattering lead.
Hawke's Bay had several chances to capitalise with Wellington's kickers struggling to make headway into the northerly.
Wing Zac Guildford showed his pace to slice through near the touch line only to pass inside to a Lions defender after 20 minutes and Hawke's Bay went close again after Watt botched a high kick near his goalline. But for two missed Berquist penalties Wellington might have trailed at the break, but the first-five made no mistake on the stroke of halftime for a 8-6 scoreline that fairly reflected the first spell.
- The Dominion Post
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