2011 rugby’s big year in the capital
The Rugby World Cup dominated Wellington sport in 2011, as it did nationally.
Not only did hundreds of thousands of Wellingtonians follow the World Cup, either by attending early matches or on television, but the city contributed some of the key members of the All Black squad.
Piri Weepu, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Cory Jane and, to a lesser extent, Victor Vito, played important roles. Wellington also claims a bit of pride, too, in the performance of Aaron Cruden of Manawatu and Andrew Hore of Taranaki, because of their link with the Hurricanes.
By the end of the tournament, Hosea Gear had also been called into the squad, as injuries mounted.
It was ironic that the All Blacks’ triumph at the World Cup should make Wellingtonians feel so good about rugby. Earlier in the year, there’d been gnashing of teeth as the Hurricanes squad – underperforming as usual – disintegrated before our eyes.
New Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett told Nonu and captain Hore they were no longer required. This caused massive disruption, to the point that Weepu and Gear signed elsewhere soon after.
The Hurricanes lineup looks noticeably short of firepower.
To round off an undistinguished season for Wellington, the Lions finished only sixth of seven teams in their ITM Cup section.
The Firebirds finished either last or second-last in all three cricket competitions – first-class, one-day and Twenty20. This resulted in the sacking of coach Anthony Stuart. Also departing was popular Cricket Wellington chief executive Gavin Larsen.
Under a new coach, Jamie Siddons, the injury-blighted Wellington team has struggled to make an impact in the 2011- 12 competitions.
The Wellington women, the Blaze, did much better, jostling with Canterbury for top honours.
There wasn’t much for Wellington to smile about on the netball scene. The Pulse improved marginally in the trans-tasman competition. In a rather low-key national netball championship, Wellington finished fourth.
Even the Wellington Phoenix football team failed to provide quite the spark of previous years. They finished sixth in the Australian league, slipping from third in 2010. Their start to the 2011- 12 has hardly been propitious.
The Phoenix did provide off-field fireworks, though, when foundation owner Terry Serepisos ran into financial problems and had to relinquish his hold on the club. He was replaced by a group of Wellington businessmen.
Wellington produced results in other sports.
The provincial men’s hockey team finished fourth and the women seventh in the national league.
The Wellington men did well in squash. Martin Knight won the national senior title and Evan Williams was voted most improved
mixed New Zealand male player. In addition, Wellington won the national senior teams event.
Wellington rower Peter Taylor wasn’t quite able to secure another world title. He and Storm Uru finished second in the men’s lightweight double sculls at the world champs in Bled, Slovenia, which is still a performance not to be sneezed at
Backstroke swimmer Gareth Kean made the final of the 100 metres in the world championships in Shanghai and picked up two medals, including a gold, at the world university games.
Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis rebounded from injury to reach the final of the 1500m in the world track and field championships in Daegu.
Pero Cameron’s Wellington Saints retained their national basketball league title, beating Hawke’s Bay 106-97.
Perhaps the brightest news on the Wellington sports scene was the opening of the ASB indoor centre in Rongotai in August. The centre has proved a huge success and there has not been the traffic chaos predicted by the naysayers.
Rugby joy: Even heavy rain didn’t deter Wellingtonians from turning out for the All Blacks’ victory parade on October 26. More than 100,000 people welcomed the Webb Ellis Cup winners.