Wellington will host one of Saturday’s NPC Premiership semifinals, after thrashing Taranaki 33-17 at Westpac Stadium this afternoon.
Needing at least a win to get a home semifinal, Wellington never looked like missing out. The final semifinal configuration will be clear once Canterbury have finished playing Bay of Plenty in a couple of hours’ time, but Wellington kept control of their own destiny with another clinical display today.
They dominated possession and territory from the opening whistle against a jaded-looking Taranaki team and earned the 17-0 halftime lead.
Given some of the personnel disruptions they suffered in the lead-up to kick off, the Lions could have been forgiven for looking a little shambolic to start with.
Original tighthead prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen was the first player to be ruled out ahead of the kickoff, with a calf injury. His Marist St Pats team-mate Arden David-Perrot was then named to start in the No. 3 jumper, but never made it through the warm-up.
David-Perrot went down with a calf injury too, meaning reserve Eric Sione was thrust into the front row. Whetu Henry, who’d been entertaining a few sponsors up in the grandstand, was summoned to the bench and eventually took his place on the plastic pitch-side seats five minutes after the match had started.
The ins and outs proved no problem for the rest of the team, though. A 13th minute penalty from left wing Jason Woodward was followed by tries to first five-eighth Tim Bateman and openside flanker Scott Fuglistaller.
Woodward converted both to give Wellington a healthy halftime advantage.
He then kicked two more penalties after the break to put the Lions 23-0 up. From having to win to host a semi, the question then was whether Wellington would be able to add a four-try bonus point and perhaps pip Canterbury to become top qualifier.
The red-and-blacks still had to beat Bay of Plenty in today’s late kickoff to secure their own home semi. But the quality of Wellington's performance was such that it was looking very much like Canterbury need a bonus-point win of their own to finish at the head of the premiership table.
Woodward made that a reality in the 56th minute when he wriggled over to score his second try of the half and secure the Lions the bonus point. Woodward’s goalkicking prowess might have suddenly eluded him, but having helped the Lions to a 33-0 lead it was hard to care.
Taranaki’s captain for the day, Jason Eaton, crashed over to score two minutes after Woodward’s second effort but, at 33-5, the bearded lock’s team were still copping a flogging. Lock James Broadhurst and replacement wing James Marshall grabbed another couple of consolation tries just before fulltime for Taranaki, to give the score a flattering 33-17 look.
Wellington 33 ( Jason Woodward 2, Tim Bateman, Scott Fuglistaller tries; Woodward 3 pen, 2 con); Taranaki 17 (Jason Eaton, James Broadhurst, James Marshall tries; Beauden Barrett con). HT: 17-0.
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