Waikato cling on after squandering big lead

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012

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Waikato women's rugby team have vaulted to the top of the provincial championship points table after upsetting last season's runners-up Wellington, 24-20, on Saturday.

In just their first season back in the national competition since 2005 the Waikato team have managed to do what their men's team have been unable to achieve, winning two of their first three matches of the season and grabbing a try-scoring bonus point from each of them to go to 11 points.

That is two better than defending champions Auckland, who have a game in hand and will be Waikato's next opponent in a fortnight after this weekend's bye.

Playing their first home game of the season at Cambridge's Memorial Park, Waikato looked like they were going to run away with it when they scored all their points in the first 25 minutes for a 24-0 lead and a bonus point.

"But I think some of the girls thought they were going to put 50 points on them and went away from the game plan," Waikato coach Reuben Samuels said.

Wellington came back with two quick unconverted tries before halftime to make the score 24-10 at the break and they scored two more in the second half, although that was scant reward for dominating possession in the spell.

The home side were forced to defend their line for at least 20 minutes of that second half and did well to hold on.

Samuels credited the home support for helping the players dig deep on defence and come away with the victory, which was a major improvement on the previous week's heavy away defeat at the hands of Manawatu, who were thumped 57-15 by Auckland on Saturday.

German lock Carola Gleixner was Waikato's player-of-the-day for her outstanding defence, while flanker Nicole Bouton and centre Honey Hireme also had fine games.

Waikato will have the services of wing/centre Carla Hohepa, who was the player of the tournament at the last World Cup for the Black Ferns, for their remaining matches.

Meanwhile Waikato Development XV were beaten 24-15 by their Bay of Plenty counterparts in yesterday's ITM Cup curtain-raiser at Waikato Stadium with former Waikato player Willie Ripia playing at first-five and kicking the goals for the Bay side.

Waikato 24 (Chyna Hohepa, Racqual Anderson-Pitman, Honey Hireme, Chelsea Alley tries; Alley 2 conversions) Wellington 20. HT: 24-10.

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