Riley Higgins and Pepesana Patafilo start at second-five and left wing respectively for the Wellington Lions in tonight’s NPC semi-final at Wellington Stadium, kick-off 7.05pm.
- By Kevin McCarthy
You wouldn’t have picked it that long ago, but here are the Lions, having a home semi-final this Friday against Auckland, and with the log of wood locked away for next year.
Actually, you might have picked it. There’s a strong Hurricanes spine to the side, as you might expect – seasoned with former All Blacks nous. On paper, they looked contenders from the get-go.
Then again, the same was true last season, when they rather face-planted – and they threatened early on to underwhelm. So building up expectations are fraught with danger.
Yet there should be confidence they can take the next step against Auckland. They look like a side that has worked out how to win, and would like to keep winning.
Fingers crossed, because their likely finals foe of course would be the dreaded Red and Blacks. Not a bad way to top off a strong season.
As the line goes in the movie, Gladiator – are you not entertained? As regards the women’s rugby world cup, most definitely.
True, the game was not a sellout as strangely claimed, but hey, it was still bigger than Trump’s inauguration.
And the sheer excitement of the night for everyone, the nerves and the anticipation, gave it a refreshing throwback quality. This is the sort of buzz that used to surround men’s international rugby, and of course, still does from time to time.
Is it being over-hyped? I think not. Compared to what exactly. The rugby you’ll see is different to the men’s game, but I would defy you to say its inferior as a contest to watch.
The Black Ferns bought plenty of sting and vigour and in the end intelligence to their revival. As did the Wallaroos to their 30-minute opening that left New Zealand shell-shocked.
Everyone knows the script by now for the Black Ferns. Ride the local wave, stay firmly as underdogs against those northern hemisphere arm wrestlers, mastermind an unlikely defence. We shall see.
Sadly what they can’t do is stay under the radar. Not with a team studded with personable, approachable players who haven’t been reduced to monosyllabic responses.
What we can say is – you will be entertained.
Oh yes, better mention them All Blacks heading North.
More on them soon, but pretty predictably, there’s that return of Anton Leinert-Brown, who you’d have to say has been sorely missed in a lot of tests this year.
I doubt Foster and co are bringing him back to sit on the pine too much. But then, where does that leave new second-five sensation, Jordie Barrett.
Midfield is well named isn’t it. Neither here, nor there really.
The Wellington Lions and Auckland teams are:
Wellington are the Fred Lucas Cup holders, having won their last match which was back in round two of 2020
Wellington also won their 2019 clash, also in Auckland, but Auckland won the previous two and have won seven of their past 10 fixtures.
They haven’t played at Wellington since 2018 (Auckland won 29-24) nor in a semi-final since later that same 2018 campaign (Auckland won 38-17 at Eden Park).
Some more miscellaneous Wellington – Auckland first-class rugby facts and figures:
- Wellington and Auckland were the first pair of North Island unions to meet in a first-class match, on 8 September 1883.
- Since then, they have met 180 times in total and Wellington have won 80, Auckland 97 and there have been three draws. In 48 NPC matches (since 1976), Wellington has won 17 and Auckland 31.
- Wellington has scored 994 points against Auckland in all NPC matches against Auckland, including 115 tries, while Auckland has scored 1,189 points against Wellington, including 141 tries.
- The biggest score Wellington has ever achieved against Auckland was 48 (48-23) in the 2000 NPC semi-final. The Lions also won a semi-final against Auckland in 2006 but lost their two most recent semi-finals to Auckland 22-33 in 2012 and 38-17 2018. Auckland also beat Wellington in the 1999, 2003 and 2007 NPC finals.
- Auckland’s biggest win and most points against Wellington came in a 58-0 non-NPC South Pacific Championship match in 1988.
- During their match at Potter’s Paddock in Epsom in 1894, hailstorms were so severe that the players left the field to shelter in the grandstand. When conditions improved play was resumed, and Wellington went on to win 13-0.
- When Auckland beat Wellington in 1897 it was Wellington’s first defeat at home by another New Zealand provincial team in 33 games since the WRFU’s formation in 1880.
- In 1955 Wellington left wing Ron Jarden enjoyed rich pickings against Auckland. In two games in a week against Auckland, Jarden scored six tries and scored 40 points, which with today’s five-point try values (then three) he would have scored 52 points.