Wellington vs Waikato
CAPTION: Lions wing Salesi Rayasi takes the ball up against Waikato. The Lions lost 28-24, but Rayasi had a strong debut on the left wing. PHOTO: Dave Lintott Photography
Waikato replacement Stephen Donald added another chapter to The Legend of Beaver by stealing a 28-24 win for his team and denied the Wellington Lions top spot on the Mitre 10 Cup Championship ladder at the end of the regular season.
Donald’s late try came after the Lions had worked their way into a dominant 24-14 lead with ten minutes to play only to watch the match slip away.
Despite the disappointing finish, the performance was a much improved effort from the home side and provided plenty of positives ahead of next week’s Championship semifinal at Westpac Stadium against North Harbour.
Upper Hutt youngster Salesi Rayasi made strong start to his first class career with a busy night on the left wing, while the forward pack, led by prop Reggie Goodes and captain Brad Shields had the better of their opposites for most of the match.
Four tries, to Vaea Fifita, Reg Goodes, Hoani Matenga and Asafo Aumua, meant Wellington came away from the match with two bonus points to finish clearly in second place behind leaders Otago.
The Lions finished the regular season with six wins and four losses and will play third placed North Harbour.
Waikato came out firing with an early try to openside flanker Adam Burn following a break from Willis Halaholo before the Lions took control of the first half.
In a forward-dominated forty minutes, Fifita, Goodes and Matenga all powered over to give Wellington the tight 17-14 advantage. One of the tries came from 18 phases of constant pressure to underline Wellington’s dominance upfront.
The game began to open up in the second half with Waikato first five Damian McKenzie laying on two classy touches to put loose forward Jordan Manihera over. Wellington responded with a try to replacement hooker Asafo Aumua barged over for his fifth try of the season to give the Lions the 10 point advantage.
In a desperate final 10 minutes, Waikato found gaps in the Wellington defence before wing Sevu Reece went over to set up a tense final few minutes. McKenzie and Donald combined to deliver the final blow with five minutes to play.
The win kept Waikato’s hopes of reaching the Premiership semifinals alive, but Tasman’s big win over Southland saw them finish one place outside the playoffs in fifth.
Waikato 28 (Adam Burn, Jordan Manihera, Seve Reece, Stephen Donald tries; Damian McKenzie 4 con) Wellington 24 (Vaea Fifita, Hoani Matenga, Reggie Goodes, Asafo Aumua tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 con). HT: 14-17.