Lomu double takes Wellington to dramatic NPC title : match report
by Huw Turner
October 21, 2000

In a dramatic and ultimately nail-biting First Division final in Christchurch this evening , Wellington became champions by defeating Canterbury 34-29.

It was a well-deserved victory, Wellington outscoring Canterbury by four tries to two, including a Jonah Lomu special down the left hand touch line with 18 minutes to play. But Canterbury are never more dangerous than when their backs are against the wall and ,trailing 15-34 with 12 minutes remaining , they threw everything into attack to ensure a pulsating finish.

Earlier , Wellington had established their superiority through again showing that they are unsurpassed by anyone in New Zealand, or perhaps even in the whole world of rugby, when it comes to taking their attacking opportunities.Coach Dave Rennie caused something of a surprise at the start by again naming Tana Umaga in the centre and leaving the departing Alama Ieremia on the bench.Wellington were quickly into their stride, building up a 13 points advantage in the first ten minutes through a well-worked Lomu try and the superlative goal kicking of fly half David Holwell.

Jonah had a relatively straightforward task after O'Halloran's clever kick through on the left sat up obligingly for the big man to gather and dash over.A series of penalties from Mehrtens and Blair kept Canterbury within reach but it was always Wellington who looked the more likely try scorers, the second from Afeaki a real beauty.

Holwell sent an up and under forward, gathered himself and his forwards mounted a drive which drove Canterbury backwards. The move then went left before Cullen stopped , changed direction and came racing back towards the right hand touch line. Afeaki cleverly angled his run towards the posts and Cullen's inside pass took him inside the defence to crash over.Wellington led 20-12 at half time, but as so often happens in matches involving Canterbury, there was a feeling that they were still in the match by having absorbed so much pressure and survived without conceding too many points.

Wellington then took the game by the scruff of the neck and appeared to have the Cantabrians well beaten.From turnover ball Cullen opened up the defence moving right.He found Umaga on his inside who in turn found Jason O'Halloran in support at his shoulder. He scored beneath the posts to open up a substantial lead.

This was soon extended by a great Lomu try down the left.O'Halloran seized upon loose ball in the centre of the field, fed lock Dion Waller who sent a magnificent pass to the giant winger. He was one on one with Marika Vunibaka, took him on the outside , fended and dragged him over the line as the Fijian came back for another go. Classic Lomu which seemed to have sealed the match.

But Canterbury are not triple Super 12 champions without having learnt to win from these situations.They then proceeded to throw everything at the Wellington defence, yes everything. Relentless, energy-sapping pressure sent both Mehrtens and Blackadder in for tries within the space of three minutes , reduced the gap to five points and set the scene for those last pulsating minutes of injury time.

Referee Honiss awarded five penalties in injury time and sin-binned Waller for deliberately knocking on. But somehow the defence held and Wellington had their title.

The result was a tonic for New Zealand rugby. The Canterbury treble would have been a wonderful achievement but would have left power dangerously centred in one union. The worry for the All Black selectors must be the freshness of their leading players as they set out on their end of season tour to Japan and Europe.But tonight Wellington will be celebrating a breathtaking finish to the season when the brilliance of their back play has again established them as one of the most exciting provincial sides in the world.


Scorers :

Canterbury : 29

Tries : Mehrtens, Blackadder. Conversions : Blair (2). Penalties : Blair (4), Mehrtens.


Wellington : 34

Tries : Lomu (2), Afeaki, O'Halloran. Conversions : Holwell (4). Penalties : Holwell (2).

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