WELLINGTON 'UNDERLIONS' SEMIS INTENT IN STYLE
NPC rugby Wellington v Waikato, Saturday October 7, 2000,
Article: Mathew Loh
WELLINGTON 'underlioned' their semi-final intent in sensational style at WestpacTrust Stadium on Saturday with a thrilling 48-23 defeat of a strong Waikato outfit.
After weathering an early Mooloo onslaught which saw Waiakato dominant in both possession and territory Wellington emerged victorious on the back of a more complete game plan and an inspirational, at times spectacular, offense which starred Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu and Bradley Fleming.
This superb line-up of attacking genius and raw power at times looked at class-above their opposition and provided a moment of sheer magic in the second half when Fleming left five defenders for dead in an incredible 80 metre run for a try which earned a roar that almost brought the house down.
Set on his way by Cullen - the king of counter attack - Fleming swerved and accelerated through a swathe of Waikato defenders before breaking clear of one last desperate Mooloo man and dashing another 70 odd metres to score what was undoubtedly one of, if not the best individual try of the 2000 season,
Fleming, who began the game on the bench, ended the 80 minutes with two tries and left a packed crowd adamant in their belief he would start for any other team in the world.
However unfortunately for the Bay of Plenty raised Fleming, Umaga, Lomu and Cullen keep him on the bench and as expected all three starred.
Lomu motivated his teamates with several big hits on defence and also revealed lovely soft hands to scoop up a low rolling ball before fending off Waikato scrumhalf Rhys Duggen and powering off on a 60 metre stampede to line.
Umaga was everywhere as usual, played half a game at centre and revealed incredible strength to score a try few players if any would have got close to scoring.
At the back Cullen as usual was pure class and in running, passing and kicking continued to show he is a special player of world-beating ability.
Up front the Wellington team improved as time went on and as the backs gained momentum and with David Holwell kicking expertly they started to gain a slight ascendency over a very rugged Waikato eight.
As usual flanker Jerry Collins demonstrated his rare talents and certainly must be an automatic choice for higher honours. His fellow loosies Rodney So'oialo and Kupu Vanisi were also in excellent form and with Otago's Josh Kronfeld on his way out Vanisi must be pressing hard for the All Black No 7 jersey.
For Waikato no-one toiled harder then Royce Willis and his obvious increasing fitness and maturity should hold him in good stead for future honours.
In other NPC rugby Auckland demolished Otago 50-9 and Canterbury repelled a determined Northland challenge on Friday night to retain the Ranfurly Shield with a hard-fought 28-22 victory.