The party began seconds after the Wellington Rugby NPC side secured a well-earned, 18-26 win at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.
Claiming the province’s first National Provincial Championship (NPC) title since 2000, it was the culmination of a season that peaked to perfection. And reaching that zenith against the established pack leaders Canterbury must have made celebrations feel that much better.
This championship win was based on a season that defined excellence from the Lions. A Wellington team that appeared rejuvenated from years past. And with a new format of a single title holder, they will not be seen as a secondary winner, after going unbeaten in their last 10 outings.
Add to that the sense of satisfaction in including so many young players amongst a senior group of men; including Julian Savea, Dominic Bird, and T J Perenara. The latter being one of several players who will next fly North to participate in the maiden outbound tour for the All Blacks XV – a ‘best of the rest’ representative side that combines experience with possible ‘stars of the future’. And it is that mix that drove this Wellington Rugby NPC side to glory in 2022.
Celebrations from Wellington Rugby NPC side
Spoiling the home supporter’s party isn’t new to a Wellington Rugby NPC side. Achieved in 2000, when the Lions were known for their superstar lineup. Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen, they all contributed to the euphoric win by the Wellington province in the Air New Zealand Cup. So while the current Bunnings NPC has the same parochial support, without those elite players, few saw the Lions as a credible cup final winner.
Surprising to some, yet earned over this season – one to go alongside the Ranfurly Shield which they lifted off Hawke’s Bay earlier in the season. Unsurprising to those who saw the balance that departing head coach Leo Crowley had developed over the last three years as their director of rugby. “I’m absolutely elated for everyone in our group, and Wellington wider rugby,’’ Crowley said. “It’s just real pleasing how we have come down here, and done a job on them, really.
“We really dug in with our defence tonight, and no matter what Canterbury threw at us, the boys delivered.’’
Highlights will show only the best moments. It won’t show all the factors that built towards a better-than-expected effort from the visitors. The big moments, yet the little ones mount up. This is where statistics prove that a good group of players can all make a difference. Only conceding five penalties, they starved Canterbury of the set piece where the hosts planned to dominate. Canterbury defenders were beaten too easily, with recalled All Black Asafo Aumua breaking through for another of his booming runs up the middle.
EXPLOSIVE 💥 pic.twitter.com/7tbL6DFx5v
— Bunnings NPC (@BunningsNPC) October 22, 2022
And in the second half, more territory allowed the Lions to work themselves into a position where the home side had to score tries to overcome a points gap – roles reversed for Canterbury, who did not hold the superior advantage they would have counted on.
It all worked for the Wellington Rugby NPC squad, and holding when skipper Du’Plessis Kirifi held the trophy aloft (see main image), it satisfied many provincial fans who enjoy nothing better than any win over the South Island, perennial champions. So if it was not Taranaki, Bay of Plenty or Tasman, who better than a resurgent capital team, to hold down the red and blacks in 2022.
”We had a slow start, everyone knows that, but we don’t speak about that now. I just can’t say enough about our coaches Paul Tito, Tamati Ellison and Greg Halford. Our scrum was under pressure all last year, and we had much the same kids in this year.
“And we have done well, you know.’’
Wellington 26 – Tries: Ruben Love, Asafo Aumua; Conversions: Jackson Garden-Bachop (2); Penalties: Garden-Bachop (3), Aidan Morgan
Canterbury 18 – Tries: Manasa Mataele, Ngatungane Punivai; Con: Fergus Burke; Pens: Burke (2)
While the Wellington Rugby NPC side celebrates, recognition should be handed to the Canterbury regional teams.
At last count, four men’s and women’s teams competed in major rugby Cup finals – the Farah Palmer Cup (that Canterbury claimed), the Meads Cup final (that South Canterbury retained), the Lochore Cup (where mid Canterbury were beaten by Ngati Porou East Coast), and in this 2022 Bunnings NPC grand final.
On top of that, the Crusaders did what all recent ‘Saders teams have under Scott Robertson – retained the Super Rugby Pacific [maiden] title.
A very good result, proving that this region as an entirity, is still one hell of a powerhouse of New Zealand Rugby….. just not on that particular evening against a decent Wellington Lions 2022 group.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images