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NPC RUGBY - Wgtn v Auckland

NPC Rugby Auckland 24 beat Wellington 19 at WestpacTrust Stadium, Wgtn.
Article: Mathew Loh

DESPITE a roaring crowd the Wellington Lions failed to make history and break the Auckland hoodoo with a 19-24 defeat to their northern rivals at WestpacTrust Stadium on Friday night.


Wellington's vaunted back four of Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Alama Ieremia and Jonah Lomu was firing on only three cylinders with Lomu seemingly out of sorts and often out of positon, play and at worst out of his depth. The big man clearly was mentally not focused as he seemed to avoid work rather than go looking for it as his team required.


In fact as Wellington made a desperate final surge toward the Auckland goal-line trailing by only five - courtesy of a superb kicking display by Lion No 10 David Holwell - Lomu was conspicuous by his absence and it appeared as if Umaga and Ieremia out wide and Kevin Yates and the magnificent Jerry Collins up front were taking on the Aucklanders themselves.


This is no disrespect to the teamates of the above foursome but their play stood out as excellent among a mainly mediocre effort from their colleagues. Even the normally superalative and often matchwinning Cullen played below his best.


Unfortunately the unpredictable brilliance that shines from Cullen can sometimes come unstuck and it did a few times Friday night - the worst been the catalyst for the opening Auckland try.


An Auckland kick was fumbled by the normally super reliable Cullen and when he desperated tried to make amends and prevent a knock-on he only knocked the ball to the feet of Dylan Mika who speculator kicked it forward to where it was dived on by a jublilant Leo Lafaali'i to give the Auks a 7-3 lead with Adrian Cashmore's conversion.


A penalty each to Cashmore and Holwell saw the score at 10-6 to Auckland eight minutes into the second half and then a poor pass from tyro Wgtn halfback James King saw Auckland turn the ball over and a smart short pass to form hooker Keven Mealamu saw the dashing rake charge 30 metres to score. Cashmore's conversion took the score to 17-6 and Wellington were forced to play catch-up.


Led by the 20-year-old Collins - playing No 8 in place of the injured Filo Tiatia - who keeps getting better and must surely be on the mind of messrs Smith, Gilbert and Thorburn the Lions did comeback and when Collins' himself crashed over to make it 17-13 with Holwell's conversion the crowd sniffed an unlikely victory.


However that scent failed to remain long and when burly centre Ilisea Tanivula busted past two weak Lions' defenders to score it proved the game-breaker.


And despite two more Holwell penalties and the never-say-die play of Collins, Yates, Umaga and Ieremia it wasn't Wellington's night and they suffered a 24-19 defeat.


Winning captain Paul Thompson was delighted with his charges and claimed defence was the key to victory and without doubt his team, led by superb performances from Andrew Blowers, Nick White and Craig Innes, were awesome on defence.


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