Wellington ease past Waikato to top NPC
Waikato slumped to their third loss of the national provincial rugby premiership 29-13 away to Wellington yesterday and saw their semifinal chances shrink considerably.
The home team scored four tries to Waikato's one and always looked more dangerous with ball in hand.
Waikato had first use of the swirling wind at Westpac Stadium but it was the home side that looked the more dangerous with ball in hand and scored the only two tries to lead 14-6 at the break.
Playing into the breeze, the home side ran the ball out of their own half from the kickoff and picked up tries to massive young loosehead prop Eric Sione and even younger No8 Ardie Savea in the 22nd and 39th minutes.
Sione's try was from some superb support play, attacking from depth with numbers behind the ball, but Savea's try in the dying stages of the first spell was something of a gift from Waikato.
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who had got away with one trick overhead defensive chip into the hands of fast following winger Glen Robertson, this time kicked the ball straight into the hands of flying Wellington winger Alapati Leiua. Leiua nearly got there on his own but was just tipped up by Waikato second-five Sam Christie and instead the ball went to the left corner where Savea got over the line with some skilful footwork.
Waikato missed eight tackles in the first 40 minutes and spilt at least three high balls in the tricky wind, but had a 7-5 penalty count in their favour and fullback Trent Renata had five kicks at goal from those.
Unfortunately he only succeeded with two kicks with the wind behind him, although several were from a considerable distance with the home side dominating territory to the tune of 65 per cent.
Waikato made three substitutions at halftime and came out with an attacking mentality which finally paid off in the ninth minute with a superb lineout drive try to replacement loosehead prop Ted Tauroa, Renata's conversion getting the visitors within one point at 14-13.
But the home side kept making easy metres around the fringes through the likes of lock Mark Reddish and quickly earned a penalty as a result for Jason Woodward to make it 17-13.
Five minutes later field position gave Wellington a great attacking chance and standout hooker Dane Coles skilfully scooped up the ball with one hand on the 22 and drew the last defender to put second-five Shaun Treeby over by the posts for a seven-pointer that took the hosts out to 24-13 and within one try of a bonus point.
Waikato, with their entire bench on with 15 minutes still to play as the midweek battle against Bay of Plenty took its toll, struggled for ball in the second half and were upset by the Wellington loosies at the breakdowns when they did, making it difficult to build any pressure from continuity.
Waikato were robbed of a bonus point six minutes from the end when replacement halfback Brendon Leonard robbed his opposite Frae Wilson of defensive scrum ball and dotted down only to be unfairly called offside by referee Nick Briant.
Wellington then added insult to injury with a bonus point of their own from a fourth try scored by Woodward from a chase of a Lima Sopoaga kick right on fulltime to make it 29-13.
Wellington 29 (Eric Sione, Ardie Savea, Shaun Treeby, Jason Woodward tries; Jason Woodward pen, 3 cons)
Waikato 13 (Ted Tauroa try; Trent Renata 2 pens, con)