An injury time penalty goal by Wellington’s Jackson Garden-Bachop resulted in a 28-27 win over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe to claim the Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy for the first time.
It was a disappointing outcome for the home team after their defence had been impressive all evening, but Wellington’s desire to move the ball from deep in their own territory brought its reward.
Counties Manukau weren’t without their chances to seal the outcome.
Firstly first five-eighths Piers Francis missed a kickable penalty goal chance in the last 10 minutes and then with two minutes remaining a strong lineout drive looked set to produce a try for flanker Jordan Taufua only for the ball to roll out of the maul and into touch.
But Counties Manukau’s luck run out with a breakdown infringement which gave Garden-Bachop, who hadn’t had the best of nights with his boot, to seal the deal.
The win was also vital for Wellington as they attempt to strengthen their position behind Otago in the Mitre 10 Championship while it was a setback in the Premiership for Counties Manukau.
Earlier, in the first half Counties Manukau struck when Wellington lost lock Isaia Walker-Leawere for not rolling away in a tackle on the goal-line. They were down 3-8 at that stage after Wellington’s hooker Leni Apisai had crossed from a driving maul after a lineout in the 10th minute.
But in the aftermath of Walker-Leawere’s sin-binning Counties Manukau opted for a scrum and while there was some untidiness in the ball coming out, No.8 Sootala Fa’aso’o tidied and went to ground allowing Pulu to float a fine pass across to fullback Luteru Laulala who crossed in a gap for a 29th minute try.
Garden-Bachop reclaimed the lead with a penalty goal but from the re-start prop Chris Baumann and lock Sam Lousi were ruled to have obstructed wing Sherwin Stowers as he ran to contest the ball.
A penalty kick resulted in a lineout option and securing the ball Counties Manukau moved the ball across the field with halfback Augustine Pulu, who had an impressive evening in his first outing since the Rio Olympics, directing play with quick support passing before another long pass put Laulala into a gap and he cross in the 37th minute. Francis added lustre to the try with a superb sideline conversion.
While lumbering Counties Manukau tight forward Kalolo Tuiloma capped the choice of a lineout from a penalty by scoring a 56th minute try, Wellington unleashed their attacking game and after a long build-up spread over 85m the home defence was worn down and Garden-Bachop was able to run in with ease to get back within two points.
Captain and openside flanker on the night, Brad Shields had a tremendous battle in the loose with home loosies Jordan Taufua and Jimmy Tupou and had the final say.
Counties Manukau 27 (Luteru Laulala 2, Kalolo Tuiloma tries; Piers Francis 3 con, 2 pen)
Wellington 28 (Leni Apisai 2, Jackson Garden-Bachop tries; Garden-Bachop 2 con, 3 pen)