Lions maul Steelers to reach Premiership final
October 18, 2013
Steelers coach Tana Umaga was a helpless onlooker in Wellington
© Getty Images
Wellington Lions will play in the ITM Cup Premiership final for the first time in four years after defeating Counties Manukau in emphatic fashion at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday. The Lions muscled up after a disappointing 35-24 loss last week to Hawke's Bay, and their brutal forward effort set the base for the bruising six-try win.
Wellington's loose forwards kept the ball close early as the Lions played into the teeth of a northerly gale, the ball-carrying skills of Ardie Savea especially telling as the home team hit Counties' defensive line hard. The Ranfurly Shield holder missed too many tackles as the Lions attacked the breakdown in waves, and the hosts scored their first try after they secured a turnover and shifted the ball wide for Frae Wilson to score. Lima Sopoaga kicked a goal to extend the lead as Wellington's strength at the set piece forced a string of Counties penalties at scrum time.
Counties looked dangerous in open play, but they rarely managed to secure the possession or territory to test Wellington, who continued to attack the breakdown with venom. Sheer weight of numbers told as the half-hour mark ticked over, Counties flanker Adam Cathcart's try-saving tackle on Wilson merely delaying the inevitable when Baden Kerr's clearing kick didn't find touch. Tim Bateman made the initial break up the middle, Wellington shifted the ball out to the right and winger Alapati Leiua dotted down to give Wellington a 15-0 lead at halftime.
Wellington's Alapati Leiua (right) celebrates his try with Frae Wilson (left) and Lima Sopoaga © Getty Images
Counties needed barely two minutes to score, building phases with patience and finishing in style as fullback Ahsee Tuala slipped the pass for captain Fritz Lee to barrel over, but Wellington bounced back almost immediately when Shaun Treeby stripped the ball from lock Jimmy Tupou with the Steelers hot on attack and ran 70 metres to score.
Counties continued to attack, and they were unlucky to have a try denied after 60 minutes with the final pass ruled forward, but tries from Faifili Levave, All Blacks Sevens rep Ambrose Curtis and a second to Leiua wrapped up the game for Wellington before Toni Pulu ensured Counties had the final say with a 78th-minute consolation try.
Toni Pulu and Counties Manukau had the last laugh in defeat © Getty Images
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