Waikato too strong for Wellington in capital
Waikato have taught Wellington's young side a lesson in application during a 37-25 national provincial championship win at Westpac Stadium tonight.
There wasn't a vast gap between the two sides, but with a cast of teenagers and provincial newcomers, Wellington's injury ravaged squad were made to pay heavily for their lapses.
Waikato scored six tries in all including a decisive 17 point burst in the nine minutes before halftime.
During that period, tries to wing Joe Webber, his second of the first half, hooker Brayden Mitchell and second five eighth Anton Lienert-Brown blew the score line out from a slender 13-11 lead to 30-11 heading into the halftime break.
It was a harsh reflection for a Wellington side whose pack had rolled their sleeves up for large chunks of the first half, but had just a single try to second five eighth Shaun Treeby and two Jason Woodward penalties to show for their efforts.
The second half followed a similar trend as the two sides battled out an even contest before Wellington halfback Jared Kahu scooted over from a quick tap to make it 30-18 with 20 minutes to play.
Again, Wellington let their guard down. Samoan under 20s captain and replacement lock Henry Stowers spilled the kick off and Waikato pounced.
Centre Jordan Payne sliced through and openside Zac Hohneck was on hand to finish the job and end any hopes the 3310 people in the stands had of a miracle comeback with only 15 minutes to play.
A late try to blindside Vaea Fifita gave the scoreboard a more realistic reflection of a match that suggests Wellington were not a million miles off despite fielding six rookies on the night.
That said, Waikato were deserved winners, it would have been more had first five-eighth Damian McKenzie not missed four conversions, and will be boosted by a bonus point win ahead of their next match against Canterbury in Hamilton.
Captain and halfback Brad Weber showed himself to be a player of vision, strength and speed and out wide Webber's pace and finish caught the eye.
Hohneck and Whetu Douglas tackled themselves to a standstill, while Lienert-Brown before he limped off with an ankle injury in the first half, had some classy touches in defence and attack.
For Wellington, young hooker Leni Apisai and lock Christian Lloyd made strong debuts, while captain Brad Shields and openside Adam Hill were effective in the loose.
Wellington looked a competent and energetic unit when they had the ball.
The forwards rolled their sleeves up and took the match to Waikato for most of the opening 25 minutes with Shields, Apisai and prop Tolu Fahamokioa relishing the tight work.
However, the Lions were a different side in defence, too narrow in the backs, and vulnerable to turnover ball.
Weber created the first try of the match when he scooted up the middle, held his feet and popped the final pass to first five eighth Damian McKenzie for an early 5-0 lead.
Woodward responded with penalty, but when Wellington spilled the kick off Waikato were off to the races.
Webber got his first when he scorched through from 50 metres and left first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili, defending at fullback, for dead to make it 10-3 in 14 minutes.
Wellington struck back when Treeby ran off an inside ball from wing Ambrose Curtis after Fifita had opened up Waikato down the left flank, and hit the lead when Woodward added his second penalty to make it 11-10.
McKenzie regained the lead with a penalty and after half an hour there was little between the two sides.
Then Wellington imploded. Webber got his second via some slick handling from Lienert-Brown and Payne.
McKenzie put his side into position and Brayden Mitchell was driven over to make it 23-11 and then Lienert-Brown showed strength and pace to surge 70 metres from the kick off.
In the space of five minutes Waikato's slender 13-11 lead had ballooned to 30-11.
Wellington probably had the better of the second half with tries to Kahu and Fifita and will take some confidence into their next match, against Northland.
Coach Chris Boyd will be hoping for some points from that match before some of his injured troops return including loose head prop Reggie Goodes who was withdrawn from the Waikato match due to concussion.
Waikato 37 (Joe Webber 2, Damian McKenzie, Brayden Mitchell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Zak Hohneck tries, McKenzie 2 cons, pen) Wellington 25 (Shaun Treeby, Jared Kahu, Vaea Fifita tries, Jason Woodward 2 cons, 2 pens). HT: 30-11.