Waikato 14 - 19 Wellington, ITM Cup
Wellington hold off Waikato
September 27, 2013
Shaun Treeby makes a break as Wellington mainaitined its unbeaten run in the ITM Cup
© Getty Images
Wellington's unbeaten run in the ITM Cup continued on Friday but not before being tested by a valiant Waikato side in a 19-14 thriller in Hamilton.
It didn't get any easier for the hosts when the ball was shifted wide, with the strong frame of Wellington wing Afa Fa'atau well complemented by fleet-footed fullback Joe Hill. The pair scored Wellington's opening two tries before a late try seemed to have given Waikato the impetus they needed as they trod off Waikato Stadium trailing 8-14 at half-time.
Waikato fought hard and came within three points of the Premiership favourites early in the second half. It looked as if the class of Wellington's forwards would outmuscle a young and growing forward pack that had just 143 caps between them.
However, a yellow card to Savea - his second this season - had Waikato scrummaging less than 10 metres from Wellington's line. A loose play eventually forced a knock on and with time up Lima Sopoaga belted the ball home and secured a closure.
It was a night to forget with the boot for Trent Renata, who finished with nine points but could have had more if his kicking radar had been turned on. Prior to the match he had converted 25 of 28 attempts with the kicking tee. He finished the night having converted just three of seven attempts.
One pleasing moment for the hosts, however, was the return of Sean Hohneck to the province. The forward played his first match since 2008 and put in a good performance in the 20 minutes he was assigned.
Waikato's loss sees them rooted to second-last in the Premiership, while their solitary bonus point means the next two matches in round eight will be crucial to their survival. The visitors, meanwhile, confirmed a semi-final position with two rounds to play. Their motivation turns to playing host for each of their inevitable play-offs appearances.
Wellington entered the match in a buoyant mood following a clinical 25-19 victory over five-time champions Canterbury to ensure they held a perfect seven-from-seven record. However it was Waikato who got first points on the board.
Trent Renata's opening penalty gave the hosts a 3-0 lead, something that only seemed to propel the visitors into action. The kick ensured Renata became the sixth player to register 400 points for the province, but it would be his only successful kick from four first-half attempts.
Wellington's patience on attack tired Waikato, and their persistence with stretching defenders wide eventually paid off when a silky backline move saw Fa'atau secure hi second try of the season. A speculative pass from Wellington scrum-half Tomasi Palu sparked the visitors' second try of the evening. Kaipati Gaualofa was immense as the Premiership table-toppers went through a number of phases before scoring through fullback Joe Hill.
Waikato finished the half strongly, and when Ben Tameifuna scored with two minutes to play the deficit was reduced to six at half-time. Renata reduced the lead further when he emulated his first half efforts by scoring the opening points of the second half with a penalty.
But Wellington responded once more through some scintillating back play that illustrated the flamboyance associated with the province. First five-eighths Lima Sopoaga passed to Hill, whose pass rolled on the ground before Savea picked it up, passed it to Ambrose Curtis before the flanker was the recipient of the side's third try.
Yet for all of their enterprise and endeavour, Wellington's lead was just five points when Renata converted his third penalty of the evening and when Savea was yellow carded with five minutes to go, Waikato sensed an upset. But sloppy handling meant Wellington were able to escape and secure their eighth consecutive victory.