‘This is the just start for us, not the end’

The Dominion Post - - Sport - HAMISH BIDWELL

Once wasn’t enough.

No, af­ter be­com­ing the first Welling­ton team to win a pro­vin­cial rugby com­pe­ti­tion since 2000 - by beat­ing Bay of Plenty 59-45 on Fri­day night - at­ten­tion quickly turned to the premier­ship ti­tle.

Some might think that’s a bit pre­ma­ture and that the Lions ought to worry about stay­ing up first. But the re­al­ity is that head coach Chris Gibbes and the team are far more am­bi­tious than that.

This year’s 60-14 and 42-26 wins over premier­ship heavy­weights Can­ter­bury and Taranaki, in cross­over matches, have con­vinced the Lions they’re a top-tier kind of side, one good enough to con­tend for sil­ver­ware straight away. They just needed to win a cham­pi­onship fi­nal - in no mat­ter what sort of fash­ion - first.

‘‘What is pleas­ing for this group is they are young and they are go­ing to learn from that,’’ Gibbes said of the team’s up and down ex­tra-time win over the Steam­ers.

‘‘And we will keep learn­ing. This is just the start for us, not the end, and we’ve got one goal achieved and now the next goal is the premier­ship.’’

‘‘You choose’’ have been the words that char­ac­terised Gibbes’ maiden cam­paign in the cap­i­tal. You choose your at­ti­tude, you choose how hard you’re pre­pared to work, you choose to suc­cumb to fa­tigue, you choose whether to feel sat­is­fied.

Gibbes has given the play­ers a frame­work to op­er­ate within and then let them de­cide how far they’re go­ing to push them­selves. That’s why he de­scribes the po­ten­tial of this group as ‘‘any­thing they want it to be.’’

From axed All Black Ju­lian Savea, to fringe Su­per Rugby play­ers such as Ben Lam and Jack­son Gar­den-Ba­chop, club play­ers like Mateaki Kafa­tolu, stars on the rise such as Asafo Au­mua and Alex Fi­dow and ev­ery­one in be­tween - Gibbes has been to mo­ti­vate and im­prove the lot of them.

It’s a sit­u­a­tion summed up in the grand fi­nal per­for­mance of Tawa’s Tolu Fa­hamokioa. Part of the Welling­ton team rel­e­gated in 2014, the loose­head prop then won pro­mo­tion with Hawke’s Bay in 2015 and played ‘‘prob­a­bly the best Mitre 10 Cup game in my whole ca­reer’’ against Bay of Plenty.

‘‘I was talk­ing to Leni [hooker Leni Api­sai] just be­fore and I was like ‘how good does this feel to get redemp­tion?’ This feels way bet­ter than the one in Hawke’s Bay. You don’t know,’’ Fa­hamokioa said af­ter scor­ing two tries in Fri­day’s fi­nal.

Welling­ton head coach Chris Gibbes shared a hug with prop Alex Fi­dow.

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