Air New Zealand Cup - Semi-Finals
Wellington to meet Canterbury in final
October 31, 2009
Canterbury lock Sam Whitelock crashes over to score against Hawke's Bay in the Air New Zealand Cup semi-final © Getty Images
Wellington have qualified for their fourth successive Air New Zealand Cup final, against Canterbury in Christchurch, after a fast-paced game-plan proved too hot for Southland to handle.
The Lions prevailed 34-21 for a repeat of last season's final. Southland entered the match still buoyant from an historic Ranfurly Shield victory over Canterbury nine days earlier but could not repeat such heroics against a well oiled Wellington team. The visitors had been forced to dampen their post-shield celebrations to concentrate on the play-off, and early signs emerged that they would struggle to match the highs experienced the previous week in Christchurch.
They briefly threatened to do so as a 14-point burst within the space of five minutes after the interval saw them lead 21-19, but Wellington finished full of running and a late brace of tries to substitute hooker Dane Coles were hammer blows to Southland's hopes.
Boasting the best defensive record in the competition this season, Southland conceded just one try in the first half but the constant pressure showed elsewhere as Wellington fly-half Piri Weepu landed four penalties during the stanza as the visitors paid a price for their infringing.
Southland had their moments and capped a brief period of dominance in the first spell with the game's first try when hooker Jason Rutledge took a short ball at pace near the try-line before his momentum took him over.
But with Weepu regularly converting his goal-kicking opportunities, Wellington hit the front at 9-7 before wing David Smith stretched their lead with a fine try in the 33rd minute. His try had its origins in a strong scrum push after which prop Anthony Perenise made a brief dab before halfback Alby Mathewson linked with his wing.
Ahead 19-7 at halftime, Wellington continued to make the play after the break but were jolted on to their heels when Southland halfback Scott Cowan scored a try against the run of play. His effort recharged Southland's batteries and they were in again minutes later when a 50m burst from second Jason Kawau was finished off by centre Kenny Lynn.
Two replacements then featured in Wellington's second try after wing Hosea Gear made the initial thrust before linking with Coles on the left-hand touchline. Coles exhibited surprising pace and even a sidestep before passing infield to replacement Mark Reddish, who committed the last tackler before finding Coles for a telling blow in the 66th minute. Coles was in again just 7min later after a Weepu crosskick saw Vito burst clear before drawing the last defender for Coles to grab his second try.
Hawke's Bay's cruel Air New Zealand Cup rugby semi-final record continued as clinical Canterbury prevailed 20-3 tonight to book a home final. For a third consecutive year, a promising Hawke's Bay season ended at the penultimate stage, with the defending champions scoring three unanswered tries to lodge a deserved win.
As top qualifiers, they will host next week's final, against the winner of Saturday's second semi-final between Wellington and Southland.
Locks Sam Whitelock and Isaac Ross scored in the first half to help Canterbury to a 12-3 halftime advantage but it was a brilliant try to first fly-half Stephen Brett 10 minutes after halftime that knocked the stuffing out of the visitors. From one of many Hawke's Bay attacking turnovers, the ball was moved quickly to winger Sean Maitland, who found Brett on his inside after a scorching 60m burst.
Both teams struggled for clean breaks after that, with Hawke's Bay particularly lacking a cutting edge to match their forward endeavour on attack.
As well as extending their horror semi-final record, Hawke's Bay remain winless against Canterbury since 1982 and still haven't tasted success in Christchurch since 1968. Despite some long periods camped on attack and some impressive driving, they never truly threatened tonight in the same way they did in the 27-20 loss to Canterbury at Napier two weeks ago.
The only black mark over their evening was the sight of All Black Ross and fullback Colin Slade exiting the game with apparent injuries which may affect their participation in the final.