Aumua stars for Lions
They’re just names on a bit of paper to most of us.
But for Wellington centre Wes Goosen, players such as Seta Tamanivalu, Waisake Naholo, Johnny Fa’auli, Charlie Ngatai and Sean Wainui presented a very real and obvious danger.
Put them all together and Taranaki didn’t arrive at Westpac Stadium with the worst backline to ever play provincial rugby in New Zealand.
‘‘Not the smallest, either,’’ Goosen joked after Wellington’s impressive 42-26 win.
Taranaki are meant to be contenders for this year’s premiership title.
Wellington, on the other hand, haven’t been part of provincial rugby’s top echelon since 2014.
But you wouldn’t have known that from how things panned out on Saturday.
Wellington held sway for long periods of the match, bursting out to an early 24-0 lead after tries to hooker Asafo Aumua and wings Ben Lam and Julian Savea. But 24-0 soon became 24-14 and later 30-19 and, on each occasion, you assumed Taranaki were on the cusp of rousing comebacks. Instead, Wellington were the team that showed the necessary resolve.
‘‘It was good to actually stop their momentum and then get the momentum back and finish a victory. We’ve lost games like that in the past, so it was good to show that fight,’’ said Goosen.
‘‘It’s a good win and a good lift for the boys to see where we are. ‘‘Yeah, it’s awesome.’’ Goosen was good again. Captain Brad Shields never lets you down, locks Sam Lousi and James Blackwell were excellent, flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi looks a good find and first five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop was among the others to impress.
But it’s hard not to focus on Aumua. The Avalon player’s first try, from 22 metres out, was brilliant, before he latched onto a Goosen kick in the second half, fended off Taranaki wing Declan O’Donnell and raced 40 metres to score.
Aumua, a former St Patrick’s College, Silverstream student, is 20 and shy and raw and you are naturally wary of talking him up. But, with ball in hand, he does things than few hookers can and that ability is going to take him places.
Goosen said the Lions call Aumua ‘‘the Hulk’’ and just work on a policy of feeding him the ball and backing up.
‘‘He’s another version of Dane Coles.
‘‘Colesy has that running game and he has that running game and he’s a freak and it’s good to watch and good that he’s on your team,’’ Goosen said.
The centre had hopes of scoring himself, when he dinked his second-half chip over the top, only for Aumua to pounce.
‘‘I was waiting on the inside for the pass but he just did his thing and that’s what he does best,’’ said Goosen.
You had to feel for O’Donnell, although there’s a fair chance he won’t be the last wing Aumua leaves grasping.
As good as Saturday’s outcome was for Aumua and company, Taranaki will wonder how the game got away from them.
Ngatai, Wainui, flanker Lachlan Boshier and Naholo all scored tries but, overall, there was just a sense that Taranaki were slightly off the pace.
They started slow and gradually worked their way back into things, without ever gaining the control you might expect from a team of their calibre.
(Asafo Aumua 2, Ben Lam, Julian Savea, Regan Verney tries; Jackson Garden 3 con, 3 pen, Dan Kirkpatrick con)
(Charlie Ngatai, Sean Wainui, Lachlan Boshier, Waisake Naholo tries; Stephen Perofeta 3 con).
Wellington 42 Taranaki 26
Wellington openside flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi pops a pass against Taranaki.