RUGBY: Visitors' early momentum lost when captain sinbinned after warning
Wellington's attacking firepower was dampened by the weather but they still beat Tasman 20-11 in a dour national provincial championship rugby match in the capital yesterday.
The final game of the opening ITM Cup round was spoiled by rain which grew heavier as the match wore on but Wellington ensured they weren't washed away in an upset with three tries over the middle period effectively sealing their fifth win from five trans-Cook Strait fixtures.
The tries were needed as first five-eighths Fa'atonu Fili had a treacherous day kicking for goal, landing two from seven.
His team trailing 8-3, Wellington hooker Dane Coles levelled the score when he burrowed over on the half hour. Fellow Hurricanes tight forward Jeremy Thrush jinked over for the second in a decisive moment on the stroke of halftime.
In one of the few scintillating acts, 19-year-old winger Julian Savea sprinted 40m and stepped inside Tasman fullback Robbie Malneek to score, and show why he was recently named under-20 world player of the year.
They didn't score over a dire final half hour, although they looked the better side when employing pick-and-go tactics - particularly into a healthy wind in the first spell.
The only late points came via a second penalty goal to Tasman halfback Steve Alfeld.
Their sole try was scored by Malneek after 10 minutes when winger Afeleki Pelenise was put outside an out-of-position Savea.
The visitors' early momentum was halted when captain Chris Jack was sinbinned in the 20th minute, moments after referee Josh Noonan had warned the former All Blacks lock about his team's constant offending.
Counties-Manukau's sizzling 29-13 dissection of Otago marked a spectacular return to the championship after three years' absence for former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, now the assistant coach and second five-eighths of a team who have occupied the cellar in recent seasons.
"We just wanted to our crowd proud and our families proud," Umaga, 37, said after seeing out 60 minutes before fatigue overwhelmed him.
"I'm starting to feel my age about now but I'll play as much as I can this season. I'll be limited by my body."
Umaga challenged his team to be more selective about when they attack rucks but otherwise couldn't fault his side, who sliced Otago up out wide.
Their speed merchants scored all four tries, including a double to young wing Ahsee Tuala and a 95m second-half intercept to seal victory and leave the south Aucklanders as one of three teams to bag a bonus point.
The others were Southland and Auckland, the latter asleep for the first half-hour yesterday in trailing North Harbour 14-0 before scoring the rest of the game's points.
Bay of Plenty reserve Phil Burleigh missed a late penalty shot from distance as his team went down 13-10 to Waikato. The hosts were deserved winners but stuttered late on when flanker Jack Lam was sinbinned and the Bay's Tanerau Latimer drove over.
Southland are third after taking advantage of some brazen Manawatu lapses in defence and winning 37-23 in Palmerston North.
In the ideal buildup to next weekend's Ranfurly Shield challenge from Otago, the southerners ironed out some of the wrinkles in their game while Manawatu shape as season-long strugglers unless they can inject some structure into their game.