Waikato Skipper Jackson Willison came up with the winner when it was needed just five minutes from the end to snatch a 28-25 NPC rugby victory from Bay of Plenty at Mt Maunganui today.
The heartbreraking result for the home side seals Bay of Plenty's fate as the team to be relegated from the premiership for next season, their seven points with one match to play not enough to save them.
The Steamers scored three tries to one and had grabbed the lead just before halftime to dominate the match in the second half but it was to no avail when Waikato produced their only try at the end to steal victory, their stronger bench getting them home.
Waikato played a frustrating first half into a stiff wind, dictating a lot of play but having to contend themselves with penalty goals with the Bay happy to infringe to stop momentum.
And the visitors let themselves down by leaving a lot of ball lying around unprotected at the back of their rucks, which the Bay were happy to feast on.
Trent Renata kicked four penalty goals, the fullback missing a fifth one with time up in the half that would have given Waikato the lead at the break.
Instead it was a 15-12 halftime lead to the home side with former Waikato players scoring all their points.
It was not until the 30th minute, with Waikato leading 9-3, that the Steamers came up with their first five-pointer to former Waikato and Italy forward Josh Sole in the left corner thanks to some quick ball movement.
Seven minutes later it was the turn of blindside flanker Johan Bardoul to score in the opposite corner after yet another turnover and with Willie Ripia converting the home side were in front.
It took less than two minutes for the Steamers to get their third try in the second spell as the Bay forwards powered onto attack and after hammering the Waikato line flicked it out for an easy overlap try to right winger Tino Nemani.
While Ripia converted to make it 22-12, Waikato's scoreline kept increasing only by threes, Renata kicking his fifth penalty goal, but Ripia cancelled that out almost immediately with a kick from halfway.
Waikato continued to look unlikely to score a try, but Bay of Plenty kept infringing and Renata kept kicking the goals, adding sixth and seventh three-pointers to close the deficit to 25-21.
But just when the Bay looked to have the game under control Waikato worked their way downfield, got an attacking scrum and Sam Christie, who had moved in from second-five to first-five, took the ball to the defensive line and laid off a short pass to skipper Willison for the match-winner that Renata converted.
Waikato 28 (Jackson Willison try; Trent Renata conversion, 7 penalty goals) Bay of Plenty 25 (Josh Sole, Johan Bardoul, Tino Nemani tries; Willie Ripia 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals). Halftime 15-12 Waikato.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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