Wellington Lions hang tough to defeat Cantabs
A 14-man Wellington hung on to beat Canterbury 25-19 at Westpac Stadium tonight and cement their status as the top team in this year's NPC.
The Lions spent 18 minutes of the match a man down, after Ardie Savea was sinbinned and then fellow flanker Adam Hill sensationally sent off with eight minutes to play.
But Wellington hung tough, in a way that's not been their hallmark over the years.
It's Canterbury that traditionally wins the hard games and perhaps Wellington's win heralds a changing of the NPC guard.
For a long time this had been a match that wanted to get underway, but couldn't find the right avenue.
The players seemed willing, only referee Nick Briant was less so.
Whining about referees feels like it's become a weekly occupation and, frankly, it's as boring to write about it as it is to watch the dross they reduce so many games to.
There was once a time when netball seemed the game most mired in incomprehensible whistle.
No-one really knows what the umpires are blowing their whistles for in netball and sadly rugby's become the same.
There was a time when you did, or could make an educated guess. Now it's just baffling.
An early Lima Sopoaga penalty and Joe Hill try had given Wellington an 8-0 lead, at which point the rugby largely stopped and didn't resume again until Canterbury prop Joe Moody scored after the halftime siren had sounded.
In between Sopoaga and Canterbury first five-eighth Tyer Bleyendaal had been give ample opportunities by Briant to practice their kicking.
Especially Blyendaal, who finished the first half having kicked three penalties and a conversion, to help his team to a 16-15 lead.
He'd also had another penalty attempt which hit the post, for a visiting side who lost Matt Todd to what looked like a shoulder injury, during the halftime break.
Things got silly, ugly, then awful, straight after the resumption of play when Briant decided to take centre stage again.
First he sent Wellington flanker Ardie Savea and halfback Tomasi Palu to the sideline to get mouthguards.
There'd "been an email'' during the week, he told the pair, and they must obey it.
The ugly came straight afterwards when Savea was dismissed for 10 minutes in the sin bin.
He'd been trying to play the game, but the referee is the sole adjudicator of when players can and can't participate in proceedings and Briant felt Savea was in a bad area and binned him.
The awfully unlucky Colin Slade was the next to go, although on a medi-cab. Not long back from two fractured jaws and a broken leg, the Canterbury fullback was left clutching his right knee after a John Schwalger tackle.
The immediate feeling was that Slade's injury looked serious and you can only hope it's more minor and he's not destined for another long stint of rehabilitation.
Bleyendaal had kicked the penalty awarded when Savea was sinbinned,giving Canterbury a short-lived 19-15 lead.
A sustained period of pressure from the 14-man Wellington side led to Palu propelling himself over from a quick tap.
Sopoaga's conversion, and a further penalty, left the Lions leading 25-19 with a quarter of the game to play.
Canterbury thought they'd snuck themselves a late win when replacement loose forward Jordan Taufua was held up over the line, and the TMO review was inconclusive, before a second TMO ruling was called for by Briant when wing Patrick Osborne slid over.
Wellington 25 (Joe Hill, Tomasi Palu tries; Lima Sopoaga 2pen, 2 con) Canterbury 19 (Joe Moody try; Tyler Bleyendaal 4 pen, con). HT: 15-16.