Julian Savea scored two tries in Wellington’s win over Bay of Plenty. Photo / Photosport
As Julian Savea flew through the air, diving to score his second try inside the opening 15 minutes, it appeared Wellington had Bay of Plenty’s number.
Meeting in their first round match of the National Provincial Championship in Wellington on Sunday, the hosts went in with the tag of favorites and showed why in those opening exchanges.
But that was a small sample size, and once Bay of Plenty got going the Steamers began to fire on all cylinders.
In a match that trended towards tackling as being an option rather than a necessity, Wellington were able to come away with a 37-35 win, leading by as many as nine points in the first half and early in the second, only to find themselves chasing the game 15 minutes after the restart and ultimately finishing the stronger of the two sides.
While Wellington made a fast start, Bay of Plenty stayed in touch through two early penalties from Kaleb Trask, before Steamers lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Wellington wing Pepesana Patafilo traded tries to go into the break.
Buoyed by finally breaking the Wellington line, the visitors took over the game in the third quarter, scoring three tries in the space of 10 minutes to snatch the lead from their hosts and then build their way to a 32-20 lead with 25 minutes to play.
Led by TJ Perenara in the No 9 jersey, the Lions didn’t panic at falling behind, and continued to plug away on attack. Within the 10 minutes following the last of Bay of Plenty’s try trio, Wellington themselves had scored two more converted tries and slotted a penalty.
With just two points the difference, the match remained there for the taking. However, with neither team able to do any more damage on the scoreboard in the final 15 minutes, Wellington held on for an opening round win, with both Savea and second five-eighth Riley Higgins grabbing two tries each.
In New Plymouth, Northland equaled their total wins from last season when they stunned Taranaki 13-11 in a scrappy contest. Northland didn’t score a point until the 56th minute, but defended well and ultimately finished the better of the two sides.
In Blenheim, Tasman beat Southland 27-20. The perennial contenders were pushed right to the final whistle by the perennial strugglers, who had a strong second stanza after the hosts had built a 17-point halftime lead.
In the Farah Palmer Cup, Otago compounded the dismay for Taranaki fans as they piled on the points in a 55-15 win in New Plymouth, while Tasman topped North Harbor 42-15 in Blenheim.