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Wellington defends Ranfurly Shield against spirited Horowhenua-Kapiti

By Adam Julian and Steven White

 Wellington: 68 (Sione Halalilo, Dominic Bird, Asafo Aumua, Isi Saumaki 2, Sam Clarke, TJ Clarke, Lewis Northcott, Kailopasi Uluilakepa, Joe Faleafaga tries; Aidan Morgan 9 con) Horowhenua Kapiti: 7 (Malaki Masoe try, Jack Tatu-Roberston con)

Wellington successfully defended the Ranfurly Shield in their first defence of 2023, resisting a spirited Horowhenua Kapiti 68-7 in blustery conditions at a packed Levin Domain this afternoon.

Deservingly, the hosts scored a folklore try with the last play of the game when debutant Malaki Masoe crossed on the right wing after Wellington was caught short from repeated forward thrusts.

Against the breeze the Lions struggled to exit their territory and it took two Peter Umaga-Jensen intercepts to get the scoreboard moving in the second half.

The first spell was largely routine for Wellington. Dominic Bird was imperious in the lineouts and props Ha’amea Ahio and PJ Sheck dictated terms at scrum time as Wellington constructed a 35-0 lead.

Ories openside Sione Halalilo had a busy and bustling afternoon and scored the opening try with classic link play. Bird and hooker Asafo Aumua (mysteriously returned from the All Blacks XV tour in Japan) took the rolling maul route to the line.

It was an encouraging debut for left wing Isi Saumaki. The Tawa flyer, who has scored 16 tries in 21 games for his club, dotted down twice, sought work, and repealed defenders easily.

Horowhenua-Kapiti were disruptive at the breakdown. Veterans Ryan Shelford, Aaron Lahmert and former Northern United No.8 Callum Watts-Pointer were all heart and grit while veteran halfback Leon Ellison was chirpy and efficient as the red, white and blues, frustrated Wellington who quickly emptied the bench.

Horowhenua-Kapiti captain and centurion Ryan Shelford leads his side out at the start of the match.

Eventually Wellington regained their spark through two intercepts to Umaga-Jensen.

The Clarke brothers, Sam, and TJ, scored tries on debut – a usual feat for two from the Chatman Islands.

Fullback TJ Clarke on the way to the chalk, after fielding a cross-kick by first five Aidan Morgan.

Both Lions halfbacks Logan Henry and Kyle Preston cleared quickly though strangely Preston was box kicking into the wind when Wellington had a healthy lead.

OBU halfback Kyle Preston clearing from a ruck in the second half.

Tawa’s Akira Ieremia and recently returned Petone prop Kaliopasi Uluilakepa were powerful off the bench.

Aidan Morgan’s goal kicking was top class, the Hurricanes and MSP flyhalf slotting several sideline conversions, twice kissing the posts.

Louis Northcott scored a hat-trick in his previous outing at this venue, for Horowhenua-Kapiti last year in a Lochore Cup semi-final. His try immediately after coming on in the second half was well appreciated.

Horowhenua-Kapiti threatened Wellington’s try line at least twice in the second half and were perhaps unlucky not to score in front of the packed marquee on the far side on at least one of these occasions.

The referee was Natarsha Ganley who became the second women after Black Ferns World Cup winner Rebecca Mahoney to officiate a Ranfurly Shield match. She was assisted by Jack Sargentina and Tomas Roache.

Wellington defends the Shield next Wednesday at the Hutt Rec against Meads Cup champions South Canterbury who have won 22 consecutive matches. Wellington have won 11 in a row and 53 out of 102 Ranfurly Shield matches.

Ories flanker Dominic Ropeti added impetus off the bench in the second half.
A bumper crowd in the Levin Domain stand.

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