New Zealand Cup
Log on the move to rampant Wellington
September 20, 2008
Wellington's Jeremy Thrush is congratulated after scoring a try
© Getty Images
Wellington made it eight wins in a row in this year's Air New Zealand Cup and clinched the Ranfurly Shield with a 27-0 victory over Auckland at Eden Park.
Twenty six years of Ranfurly Shield torment is finally over for Wellington as the provincial rugby title favourites dispossessed holders Auckland 27-0 at Eden Park here tonight.
Wellington's 11th challenge for the Log o' Wood since they surrendered the trophy to Canterbury in 1982 finally secured the desired result as the Air NZ Cup leaders continued their irrepressible form.
The end of Auckland's 12-month tenure also jeopardises their retention of the domestic title as a vastly inexperienced and injury-ravaged squad finds itself at risk of missing the quarterfinals with two rounds of the regular season remaining.
In stark contrast, Wellington's eighth consecutive bonus point victory leaves last year's runners-up seven points clear of second-placed Canterbury.
After weathering an early barrage, Wellington broke the shackles when lock Jeremy Thrush opened the scoring from practically the visitor's first foray into enemy territory in the 11th minute.
Fullback Cory Jane glided down the blindside after fielding a clearing kick from Taniela Moa and effortlessly linked with Piri Weepu, who transferred to the mobile second rower for a straight forward touchdown in the corner.
Hosea Gear, the competition's leading tryscorer, again showcased Wellington's ability to punish opponents on the counter after a stray Auckland boot gifted possession at a breakdown in the 28th minute.
In a flash Weepu had hurled the ball to a forwards dominated backline where Thrush and fellow-lock rower Ross Filipo wisely transferred the ball to Gear, whose duel with covering No 8 Peter Saili was a no contest.
Gear eyed the defender before effortlessly swerving into clear air on a 55-metre stroll to the line for his 10th try of the campaign.
Weepu again failed to convert but Wellington were undeterred, comfortably looking the more threatening during a disjointed encounter.
Underdogs Auckland, desperate to extend their latest Shield tenure to six matches as past legends watched on while marking the union's 125th anniversary, were occasionally dangerous but were too hesitant or error prone to benefit.
Isaia Toeava, reluctantly press ganged into first five-eighth after Lachie Munro's season-ending shoulder injury against Bay of Plenty last week, typified Auckland's first half frustrations.
Toeava looked dangerous on the break but his instinct let him down as he either kicked aimlessly or lost contact with his support.
The trend continued after the break and although Wellington also squandered opportunities a lineout steal 5m from Auckland's line ultimately ended with hooker Dane Coles diving over untouched in the 55th minute.
Filipo burrowed over to seal the bonus point with 18 minutes remaining before replacement No 8 Thomas Waldrom twisted the knife with a breakout try that perfectly encapsulated Auckland's poor ball retention and Wellington's ruthlessness.
After muscling to within 10 metres of the chalk, Auckland lost the ball in contact allowing Tamati Ellison to power through several defenders on a upfield burst before Waldrom gave the Wellington-dominated crowd of 16,811 even more to celebrate.
Auckland, who suffered yet another setback when Daniel Braid failed a fitness test on his ankle before kick-off, also lost loosehead prop Paea Fa'anunu in the opening quarter as Wellington's pack achieved early domination.
The backline was also remodelled with Toeava ultimately switched to midfield and Moa moved from halfback to pivot, to no avail.
Weepu also ended the match at first five-eighth after Daniel Kirkpatrick was subbed at halftime after a solid return from a long-term shoulder injury that kept him sidelined since round two.
For Wellington coach Jamie Joseph, who endured four failed challenges with Otago during the 1990s, the result was the ideal filip as his father Jim is gravely ill with lung cancer in Blenheim Hospital.
There was only scant consolation for Auckland, who at least were spared the indignity of inheriting the worst ever shield loss by a holder -- Canterbury still has that benchmark after being blanked 35-0 by Auckland in 1995.
Wellington's only defence of the season is against Tasman on Saturday.
Elated Wellington captain Weepu said the approach this week was to not be overawed by the occasion.
"The key message was to still be excited and not go into our shells and start playing safety rugby. Just keep on attacking and try to run them around and it paid off for us," Weepu told Sky Sports.
"We tried to speed the game up a bit and tire their big boys out."
The achievement dawned on Weepu only after the final whistle blew.
"It was good to see heaps of Wellington supporters here, it's good to actually lift the Shield tonight, it hasn't been in Wellington for 27 years."
Veteran Auckland prop Nick White made no excuses.
"We couldn't get into the game. Every time we got down there to have a crack at their line we made a mistake and against a team like that you just can't do it," he said.
"There was plenty of effort out there but it wasn't good enough tonight."
Result of a Ranfurly Shield/Air NZ Cup rugby match at Eden Park here tonight:
Wellington 27 (Jeremy Thrush, Hosea Gear, Dane Coles, Ross Filipo, Thomas Waldrom tries; Piri Weepu con) Auckland 0. Halftime: 10-0.