NPC Welington versus Northland
NPC Rugby, Wellington versus Northland
Sunday, 27 August, 2000 WestpcTrust Stadium, Wgtn
Article: Mathew Loh
DESPITE entering the 'Lions Den' as expected prey Northland ambushed a toothless Wellington team and left the local fans praying for better things after suffering through a 24-30 home defeat.
Indeed as play neared the end WestpacTrust Stadium began to reverberate with a mocking slow clap as the fans finally vented their frustration after their inspirational chants failed to fire the home team.
From the opening salvo, when a Shannon Paku error saw one of the country's form No 7s - Justin Collins - cross to give the Northlanders an early lead it was apparent the Lions would struggle to lord over their own jungle.
And against a side which obviously runs on emotion and is inspired by two of New Zealands most storied characters in Norm Berryman and Glen Taylor, Wellington were always going to battle after giving the Cambridge Blues an early sniff.
Despite some rugged efforts from Filo Tiatia, Dion Waller and Jerry Collins and some class touches from Brad Fleming, Paul Steinmetz and Jason O'Halloran Wellington were bustled, hustled and deservedly lost a game they should have won.
Inoke Afeaki also contributed his typical 100 percent and it was sad to see the athletic second-rower stretchered off late in the game.
Awesome breakaway Justin Collins was again dominant and was ably supported by Taylor, Samui Vahafolau and a burly, confrontational front row which never allowed the Wellington scrum to settle.
Berryman was seen inspiring his troops and his influence probably outweighed his tangible contribution which was a shadow of his best despite a cameo try courtesy of quick tap by quality halfback Joggie Viljoen.
As Hurricanes back-up the long-passing South African must have taken extra pleasure in Northland's win especially as his opposite Jason Spice - the man who keeps the former Springbok on the Super 12 bench - was increasingly out of sorts and made several uncharacteristic and basic errors.
In fact the sight of Spice missing good ruck ball not once but twice, making poor decisions and kicking badly indicated the normally A-grade scrumhalf had taken a knock and was feeling ill effects without acknowledging them.
Ironcially despite a woeful performance the Lions were in the game to the end and could have won or at least drawn had, in hindsight, Norm Hewitt chosen to kick at goal with some of the four penalties his team were awarded in the last 10 minutes.
But attack is Wellington's modus operandi and attack they did with Hewitt turning down the shots at goal only to see his team held out by tenacious Northland defence.
In fact it was this apparent attitude of attack at all costs that cost Wgtn late in the game when Jonah Lomu threw a lolly of a pass which was intercepted by everywhere man Collins who led would-be tacklers on a merry run before setting up replacement loosie Matthew Webber for the winning try.