LIONS eat, chew and spit out Auckland bogey
NPC Rugby semi-final Wellington v Auckland, 13. 10.
Article: Mathew Loh
THE WELLINGTON Lions ate, chewed and then spat out the imfamous Auckland bogey to make the NPC final with a history-making 46-23 victory at Eden Park tonight.
Inspired by the brains-trust of Dave Rennie and Graham Mouries and led from the front by Norm Hewitt Wellington entered the game as definite underdogs against a team they hadn't beaten away for 18 long years.
However with the awesome back four of Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga, Brad Fleming and Jonah Lomu making superb use of good ball won by a pack firing on all cylinders Wellington took it to the Northerners from the opening kick-off.
Lomu opened the scoring with a try that signalled the Lions' intent of all-out attack and by continuing with intense fifteen man rugby they overwhelmed the favourites and by adding tries to Cullen and Fleming the capital's team led 22-16 at the break.
And while their half-time lead was only a slender six points the fact Wellington had maintained a lead, despite playing 16 minutes with 14 men and being hammered 18-4 in the penalty count was an ominous sign for an out-of-sorts Auckland XV.
In the second half another try to Cullen; some superb goalkicking by David Holwell; a drop-goal from the incredible Cullen and finally a try under the dot to Umaga underlined Wellington's dominance.
Auckland, meanwhile were confined to also-rans in a historical semi-final that saw the Lions, by putting in a full-on 100 per cent effort, progress to a final against either Canterbury or arch-rivals Taranaki.
Individual Wellington efforts were hard to pinpoint in a team performance, apart from shoddy first-half discipline, of a sublime quality, but, 20-year-old No 8 Jerry Collins again revealed his class as did his fellow New Zealand colt loosie Rodney So'oialo while breakaway Kupu Vanisi must surely have done enough to secure the Black jersey he wore briefly in 1999.
Out wide Cullen was at his mesmerising best while Umaga reveled in the hard work of the midfield and halfback Jason Spice gave everything in an excellent all-round game.
Lions skipper Norm Hewitt credited his forwards with securing victory: "It was won up-front, the scrummaging was great and in the second half the guy's dominated,".