Wellington vs Hawkes Bay
Call them the Young Guns.
A Wellington team containing nine new caps and three school leavers stamped an early mark on the Mitre 10 Cup Championship with a 36-26 win over Hawke’s Bay in Napier on Saturday.
The young Lions outscored their Premiership rivals five tries to four with Alex Fidow, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Galu Taufale, Joe Hill and Greg Foe all crossing the try line during an entertaining match at McLean Park.
First five Garden-Bachop steered his side with maturity beyond his 21-years in performance symbolic of where the Lions are at under head coach Earl Va’a.
A year after losing to Hawke’s Bay in the Championship final at the same ground, the Lions worked out a way to win after trailing 12-7 at halftime and struggling to cope with a rushing Magpies defensive line.
Garden-Bachop started the comeback when he scored shortly after the resumption when he cleverly kicked ahead an inside pass from right wing Joe Hill, then won the race to the ball in-goal.
It was the spark Wellington needed and over the next 25 minutes they unleashed some sparkling attacking rugby.
Big Poneke lock Isaia Walker-Leawere started the match in his first year out of Gisborne Boys’ High School and the 2015 Scots College pair of prop Alex Fidow and Peter Umaga-Jensen would join him on debut off the bench.
All three acquitted themselves well with Fidow scoring his first provincial try after coming on as a blood bin replacement for another young prop Joe Apikotoa.
CAPTION: Back left to right, Shaun Treeby, Matt Proctor, Hoani Matenga, and Jason Woodward enjoy the win over Hawke's Bay with Wes Goosen and Jackson Garden-Bachop seated in front.
At the other end of the age scale 29-year-old Wellington debutant Galu Taufale capped a memorable debut when he scored from a cross kick from another Poneke rookie Pakai Turia.
Garden-Bachop’s sideline conversion put Wellington up 22-12 and when Hill stepped his marker to earn the bonus point the result was no longer in doubt with 15 minutes to go.
The game opened up after that as both teams threw caution to the wind. Hawke’s Bay grabbed two late tries to Geoff Cridge and Ryan Tongia, while Wellington captain and openside Greg Foe strolled in at the corner between times after an audacious chip and chase from No 8 Hoani Matenga.
Hawke’s Bay had opened the scoring through second five Billy Rohipa and the visitor’s enjoyed plenty of possession during a fast paced first half that saw both teams adapting to the new breakdown rules.
Fidow got Wellington on the board when he barged over from close range before halftime before Hawke’s Bay No 8 Fa'alemiga Selesele scored a soft try after the Lions committed a cardinal sin and let a high ball bounce untouched in the middle of McLean Park.
After halftime Wellington asserted their dominance across the park. Walker-Leawere and Lousi were physical in the second row, American prop Chris Baumann effective in all aspects on debut and Foe all over the park.
In the backs centre Matt Proctor was always involved and wings Hill and Wes Goosen both elusive in space.
Wellington has a short turnaround before playing Otago in Dunedin on Thursday.
Wellington Lions 36 (Alex Fidow, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Galu Taufale, Joe Hill, Greg Foe tries; Jason Woodward con, Garden-Bachop 2 con, pen) Hawke's Bay 26 (Billy Rohipa, Fa'alemiga Selesele, Geoff Cridge, Ryan Tongia tries; Ihaia West 2 con). HT: 7-12.