Tiatia Shines In Lions Victory
IN a pulsating opener to NPC 2000 at WestpacTrust Stadium on Friday night Wellington beat Canterbury 27-20 with powerhouse No8 Filo Tiatia charging toward regaining an All Black jersey with an awesome all-round performance.
And if form is the definitive criteria for higher honours then, on last night's effort, 20-year-old Jerry Collins and dreadlocked breakaway Kupu Vanisi must be pushing for national selection as they come out on top in a rugged struggle against their opposites and incumbent All Black loosies Reuben Thorne and Scott Robertson.
Robertson, especially, after taking an early knock and clearly not recovering, was a poor shadow of his normally intimidating self and the sight of his battling despite being hurt may see All Black coach Wayne Smith hurling a few terse words toward his former teamate and colleague Canterbury coach Robbie Deans who it seemed seemed reluctant to sub 'Razor' Robertson for NZ colt openside Johnny Leo'o.
This decision, as well as being a possible hindrance to Robertson's immediate All Black development, may also have been a crucial factor in the red and blacks failing to win as Robertson missed some vital tackles, threw a pass that led to a match-changing intercept try and generally played far below his proven ability.
And in a very tight game where both teams struggled to dominate and in most areas simply shut each other out it was the Wellington Lions who eventually got the upper hand and eventual win via the talents of their inspirational loose trio.
With Robertson struggling Vanisi took full advantage to have wonderful game in the loose, Collins outplayed Thorne with an all-action performance of marauding attack and thumping defence while leading the Lion pack from the front was Tiatia who strode the field like a colossus bulldozing the opposition at every opportunity.
In a superb advertisement for the domestic game both teams can feel good about their effort but Canterbury have every right to lament losing an away game that was so close.
Canterbury opened the scoring the fourth minute when Fijian international Marika Vunibaka crashed over in the right hand corner and with prolific fullback Ben Blair's conversion the Lions were trailing 7-0.
Ten minutes later Wellington 1st five eighth David Howell stroked a penalty to make it 7-3 but minutes later Lion lock Dion Waller was pinged and Blair's unerring boot gave Canterbury a 10-3 lead.
Another Howell penalty took the score to 10-6 at 21 minutes and it was obvious a tight game was in progress.
Canterbury then came agonisingly close to scoring when their new No 8 Sam Broomhall charged toward the line only to be dragged down just short. But Wellington were gradually gaining ascendancy and an intercept try to wing Elvis Seveali'i saw the Lions take a 13-10 lead into the half-time break.
A fired-up Lions team took the field in the second half and almost immediately made an impact when their captain Norm Hewitt popped up a lovely short ball to Tiatia to blew past Thorne on a 25 metre charge to line where he dotted down to give his team a 18-10 lead with the kick to come.
With the conversion a formality, to Howell, Wellington were 10 points up at 20-10 and Canterbury were beginning to look rattled especially with Collins hitting them with the regularity of a Swiss watch and velocity of an exocet missile.
Fittingly it was a crunching Collins tackle which created the pressure that led to a Canterbury turnover which resulted in Wellington lock Inoke Afefaki crashing over for the match winning try.
But while Howell's conversion gave Wellington a 27-10 lead going into the final 20 minutes Canterbury were far from a spent force.
And a try to exciting young New Zealand colt halfback Ben Hurst and Canterbury were back in the game. However despite a heroic effort Canterbury could only add a Leon MacDonald three pointer in the last minutes and Wellington were left elated at winning the opening game at home against a long-time archrival.