The Bay of Plenty Steamers were 20 minutes away from shocking the crowd at the Westpac Stadium on Friday night, and they gave the Wellington Lions all they had in an absolute thriller in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship final.
Regardless of who won the game, both teams were going to be lifting a trophy for the first time since the start of the Millennium. And after 80 minutes of some of the best-running rugby, it was deadlocked at 40 apiece after a penalty goal by Wellingtons star first five Jackson Garden-Bishop slipped to the right of the uprights – much to the joy of the handful of Steamers supports in the stands. The game was going to extra time for the first time in over 30 years of rugby in New Zealand.
Just 40 minutes earlier it looked like the Lions already had one hand on the trophy with a charge down try by inspirational captain Brad Shields to put the scores at 28-14 with 35 to play. But like all season, the Steamers dug deep and put in the best 30 minutes of mahi they have all season, with Steamers winger Joe Webber scoring two of the best tries you will see all season to push the Bay right back into contention.
But as soon as extra time started it was going to come down to who could throw the first punch, and boy-oh-oh the Lions threw a few haymakers to knock the wind out of the Steamers’ hopes – by the end of the first half of extra time, the Lions had blown their lead up to 59-40.
With a Mitch Karpit try as the hooter sounded the score was stuck at 59 – 45. For the first time since the 2000 season, the Wellington Lions were lifting a trophy after going 0 for 8 in the last 17 years.
A gallant effort by the Bay of Plenty Steamers as they gave it all they could and more. But after a 15 try thriller at the Cake Tin it was just too much of a David and Goliath battle for the boys from the best city in New Zealand.
Looking forward to next year, Wellington will be promoted to the Premiership division for the first time since they were relegated at the end of the 2014 season. For the Bay, it will be back to the drawing board as they will start the quest for the first final win since they beat Thames Valley in the 2000 Division 2 final.
Wellington 59 (Tolu Fahamokioa 2, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Sam Lousi, Brad Shields, Alex Fidow, Wes Goosen, Sitiveni Paongo, Julian Savea tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 pen, 4 con).
Bay of Plenty 45 (Joe Webber 2, Luke Campbell, Tyler Ardron, Jesse Parete, Terrence Hepetema, Mitchell Karpik tries; Mike Delany 5 con). HT: 20-14.