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Lions hold off Hawke’s Bay, to host Auckland in semi-final

Replacement halfback Richard Judd proved a super-sub in the dying minutes after he came on at halfback, making a searing break then scoring the match-winning try, then helping make a match-saving tackle at the other end. PHOTO: Mike Lewis Pictures.

The Wellington Lions held off a fast-finishing Hawke’s Bay to win their National Provincial Championship Odds Pool quarter-final 28-21 at Wellington Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions will now host Auckland next Friday night at the same venue in their NPC semi-final and for the Fred Lucas Cup.

Auckland defeated North Harbour 21-18 in their top eight match, in a similarly close finish.

In front of a sparse but hearty crowd, the Lions raced to a 15-0 inside just 11 minutes of play, going on to lead 18-0 at halftime.  Hawke’s Bay came back with a try to halfback Brad Weber to close the gap to 18-7, before finding their best form over the next 20 minutes and establishing a 21-18 lead with seven minutes to play.

The quarter-final unfolded dramatically over the remainder of the match, with Wellington storming back on to attack after winning the resulting re-start. Hawke’s Bay recovered but kicked into touch for Wellington to launch again.

Replacement halfback Richard Judd was then involved twice in what was the match-winning try, first darting 15 metres back up into the 22, then on hand on the near side of the posts to score that try after a punch at the line by centre Billy Proctor was cut down short.

First five Jackson Garden-Bachop kicked the conversion and Wellington were back in front 25-21.

With two minutes still to play, Wellington earned a penalty on halfway and Garden-Bachop sent the ball sailing between the uprights, extending their lead to 28-21.

Needing to score a converted try to force extra time, Hawke’s Bay pressed hard for that try.

First, Judd and Garden-Bachop combined to make a try-saving tackle in the corner on Magpies fullback Chase Tiatia, then Hawke’s Bay made an attacking lineout error in the opposite corner with a lineout penalty. The Lions packed down a scrum and Garden-Bachop booted the ball hard into touch over the dead-ball line to seal the game on fulltime.

Earlier, the flyhalf had opened the scoring for the Lions with a penalty, before two consecutive tries put them up 15-0. Left wing Pepesana Patafilo chased up a kick that sat up and bounced cruelly for the Magpies defenders and Lions fullback Ruben Love soon scored.

Ruben Love opens the try-scoring. PHOTO: Mike Lewis Pictures.

Next, the Lions drove from a lineout penalty in the corner and were awarded a penalty try.

With hooker Tyrone Thompson the culprit and sent to the sin-bin, the Magpies were lucky not to concede more points over the next 10 minutes.

Despite not scoring again until just before the break through a Garden-Bachop dropped goal, Wellington maintained the pressure throughout the first half, through their kicking game, constantly turning the Magpies around and asking them to play inside their own territory. The visitors also made a slew of unforced errors.

Hawke’s Bay coach Josh Syms continued to play a game of rope-a-dope, sucking up pressure whilst restricting any further damage. He steadily started emptying the bench, and fresh legs and improved accuracy and a beast-mode scrum saw them climb back into the game.

Weber scored his try, followed by a try to first five Lincoln McClutchie, which he converted himself, made it 18-14 after 65 minutes. Replacement flanker Josh Kaifa dived over from close range after lineout drive in the corner to go 21-18 up,  setting up a tense finish at the waterfront stadium.


Heartland Championship

Whanganui accounted for Mid Canterbury 46-13 in a dominant last round Heartland Championship win at home at Cooks Gardens this afternoon.

The Butcher Boys will host Thames Valley in one top four Meads Cup semi-final next week, while South Canterbury will host King Country in the other.

South Canterbury beat East Coast 57-5 today – but Thames Valley fell to a pulsating 44-43 defeat to Horowhenua-Kapiti at home.

The win for Horowhenua-Kapiti means they will play East Cost at home in the 6 v 7 Lochore Cup semi-final next weekend. North Otago will entertain Mid Canterbury at Oamaru in the 5 v 8 match.

Elsewhere, Wairarapa-Bush finished their season with a 55-39 win over Buller, as did Poverty Bay with a 41-17 win over West Coast.

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