Ranfurly Shield holders Hawke’s Bay have defeated the Wellington Lions 36-14, the Magpies third successful defence and the team’s fifth win of the season, which provisionally moves the Napier based union to top of the ITM Cup Championship table.
The result unfortunately confirms the worst for Wellington fans, with the 2013 runners-up now confirmed as the relegated Premiership side, meaning that the Lions will play in the Championship during the 2015 campaign.
Initially it looked as if the visitors were going to give Hawke’s Bay a tough battle with Chris Boyd’s team boasting a 9-7 lead until the 37th minute of the first half.
There was patience on display from Wellington, perhaps the sight of the Shield on the sidelines was inspiration, but the bottom placed team in the Premiership was making the home province look ordinary in the opening exchanges.
However a dangerous tackle from Vaea Fafita led to the lock leaving the field with just a couple of minutes to play in the opening stanza.
When he returned, the Magpies had scored 14 points and moments later added to that tally.
Ihaia West would miss the first penalty kick, but his team would make amends via a charge down by Brendon O’Connor off a Willie Ripia strike, which a couple of phases later led to Gareth Evans crashing over from close range for the matches first try.
Ripia would keep Wellington’s tally ticking over in a solid opening half.
It was arguably the tourists best first 40 of the season, but while Hawke’s Bay were struggling to find an opening, in what was a galling development the Lions in some respects handed an opening to the Shield holders.
After O’Connor’s try it was 14-9 at halftime, and one minute into the second half Ryan Tongia scored a scorcher, with Richard Buckman causing havoc up the middle of the field before the dashing right wing crossed.
They were finding holes in Wellington’s tight defence, who were still without a forward for the first several minutes of the second half.
Tony Lamborn would add another as the Magpies quickly found their flow, with the Lions tight defence struggling to contain the quick ball and pick and drives that the hosts were beginning to put together.
When Tongia added his second in the 64th minute it put a decisive end to Wellington’s challenge.
It was visually pleasing stuff from the Magpies, playing wide attack rugby to perfection, catch and pass led to the Lion’s defence fragmenting to give over 11,000 fans plenty to cheer about.
Matt Proctor would add a late try for Wellington towards the death, but if anything it was a frustrating five points as it showed how wonderfully the Lions sweeping attack can operate.
Brad Shields, who deserves special credit as captain after his eighth consecutive post match interview with little to get excited about, put in another strong display.
However his troops look fragile and weren’t able to respond when Hawke’s Bay put lethal pressure on the Lion’s line.
The Magpies play a top-of-the-table Championship clash against Manawatu next up, while Wellington must pick themselves up with an end of round fixture against in form Taranaki on October 5.
Hawke’s Bay 36
Tries: Evans, O’Connor, Tongia (2), Lamborn
Cons: West (4)
Pens: Ripia (3)