Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Wellington made to work for win

Tim Bateman of Wellington. Photo / Getty Images.
Tim Bateman of Wellington. Photo / Getty Images.

Wellington 42
Manawatu 15

Wellington are going to have to stop making life so tough on themselves when they finally come up against some of the heavy-hitters in the ITM Cup this season.

After cruising past the underwhelming Counties Manukau and Taranaki in their first two outings, Wellington stumbled to a pair of victories this week over Championship opposition and didn't look flash in the process.

They held off North Harbour 35-27 on Wednesday night and were made to work for a 42-15 win over Manawatu at the Cake Tin today.

Wellington fielded a starting XV with 13 players with Super Rugby caps - while Manawatu only had three - but Wellington's vast advantage in experience wasn't evident on the field.

Manawatu brought vigour from the opening whistle and they were in complete control for the opening five minutes as Wellington appeared to have not woken up from their Sunday morning slumber.

Following a penalty to Manawatu first-five Nate George, import halfback Nic Stirzaker added to their lead as he finished off an exciting counter-attacking try as the Turbos shot out to an 8-0 advantage.

Wellington were smashed at the breakdown as the Manawatu loose trio of Callum Gibbins, James Oliver and Heiden Bedwell-Curtis brought more impact than their opposites.

A faulty lineout, woeful handling, inaccuracy at the breakdown - you name it and Wellington made a similar error at a chilly Westpac Stadium in front of a crowd of 4773.

A Joe Hill five-pointer brought Wellington to life mid-way through the first half but Stirzaker crossed again when he was in support to finish off a nice break from Manawatu fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder.

Veteran Wellington lock Ross Filipo helped erode the deficit when he scored from close quarters as Manawatu held on to a 15-12 lead at the break.

Openside flanker Ardie Savea was finally injected in to the game after about 10 minutes of the second spell and Lima Sopoaga squared the ledger at 15-all shortly after with a penalty.

Wellington finally hit the front with only 12 minutes left when Sopoaga booted a penalty from within his own half.

Savea then made a crucial steal at the breakdown and Sopoaga's right foot continued to prove valuable as he kicked his third penalty of the afternoon.

The floodgates finally burst in the final 10 minutes though when Filipo grabbed his second then Tim Bateman sealed the bonus point as Wellington blew the scoreline out.

When replacement back Afa Fa'atau scored with only a few minutes left it merely rubbed salt in the wounds of Manawatu who have now lost their opening three games.

Try of the game: Manawatu fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder fielded a long kick, danced past a few defenders and burst in to space before he linked with halfback Nic Stirzaker who flew over for the second try of the day for the Turbos. Scintillating stuff.

Turning point: Wellington coach Chris Boyd waited 51 minutes to do it but when openside flanker Ardie Savea was finally added to the game he made a difference. The 19-year-old made one promising carry and a key turnover in the 69th minute to spark the Lions.

Wellington 42 (Ross Filipo 2, Joe Hill, Tim Bateman, Afa Fa'atau tries; Lima Sopoaga 4 con, 3 pen) Manawatu 15 (Nic Stirzaker 2 tries; Nate George pen, con) HT: 12-15

- APNZ

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