Wellington have claimed their first final victory since 2000 with a scarcely believable 59-45 extra-time victory over Bay of Plenty in the Championship final at Westpac Stadium.
Nothing could separate the sides after a thrilling 80 minutes with the scores locked up 40-40. But Wellington were too good in extra time with a rampaging Julian Savea try securing the win and their place back in the Premiership for the first time since 2014.
Although Wellington went into the game as heavy favourites, it didn’t take long for the Westpac Stadium faithful to realise they had a contest on their hands. The Steamers made all the running early in the first half to push out to a 14-5 lead on the back of two equally impressive tries.
The first was a genuine team effort finished by halfback Luke Campbell while the second was all down to the individual brilliance of Joe Webber. The sevens star fielded an aimless kick from the Lions on halfway and beat three defenders with pace and power to put the Steamers ahead by nine points.
But you cannot afford to let your guard down against this Lions side. Led by their rampaging forward pack, the Lions began to punch holes through the middle of the Steamers defence and tries to lock Sam Lousi and prop Tolu Fahamokoia helped the Lions to a 20-14 lead at the break.
It took the Lions just 14 seconds to get on the board in the second half when captain Brad Shields scored from a charge down to make it 25-14. A penalty to Jackson Garden-Bachop moments later extended the lead to 28-14 and the Steamers could have easily folded against a Wellington side that has looked near-on unbeatable in 2017.
But this Steamers team is made of sterner stuff. An intercept try to Canadian international Tyler Ardron was quickly followed by another stunning solo effort by Joe Webber to make it 28-28.
From there the game entered the Twilight Zone with the teams trading tries to make it 40-40 with time up on the clock. Wellington had the chance to claim the title when Jackson Garden-Bachop stepped up for a long-range shot at goal. Normally reliable with the boot, Garden-Bachop’s attempt went wide to send the game into extra time.
Playing an extra 20 minutes was always going to be a war of attrition and the Lions looked the more fitter and composed team in extra time. Tries to Wes Goosen and replacement hooker Sitiveni Paongo made it 52-40 to the Lions at the end of the first half of extra time.
When Julian Savea bumped off two defenders to score early in the second half of extra-time, the lead was out to 59-40 and the Championship title well in their sights.
Bay of Plenty didn’t give up throughout the entire 100 minutes and had the final say with a try to Mitchell Karpik to make the final score 59-45.
In the end it was to be Wellington’s night in a final that will go down as one of the greats.
Wellington captain Brad Shields said: “It’s been a couple of tough years. I want to commend Bay of Plenty – that was a hell of a match and the way finals should be played. I’m happy with the way the boys have put their hands up and played for the jersey this season. It’s very special to know we will be back up in the Premiership.”
Wellington 59 (Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Sam Lousi, Tolu Fahamokioa 2, Brad Shields, Wes Goosen, Sitiveni Paongo, Julian Savea tries, Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 pen, 4 con) Bay of Plenty 45 (Luke Campbell, Joe Webber 2, Tyler Ardron, Jesse Parete, Terrence Hepetema, Mitchell Karpik tries, Mike Delany 4 con)