The cow bells were ringing loudly in Hamilton on Saturday as Waikato beat Wellington 37-31 in the New Zealand Cup final.
It is only Waikato’s second First Division title, following success in 1992 when former All Black coach John Mitchell was captain.
Waikato lost just one match in the competition, and deserved their victory on the night, scoring four tries to three.
Flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth gave Wellington an early 3-0 lead with a penalty, before Waikato struck back from a line-out. Inside centre David Hill found Sonesi Anesi, who came off his wing and burst into the Wellington 22 before being tackled by Ma’a Nonu. However, Anesi popped the ball up to outside centre Richard Kahui, who scored the game’s first try.
A second Gopperth penalty made it 7-6, before scrumhalf Byron Kelleher extended Waikato’s lead on the half hour mark when he barged his way through the Wellington defence after an initial surge by flyhalf Stephen Donald.
However, Wellington responded just minutes later when All Black No 8 Rodney Soâ€™oialo broke through some poor midfield defence and found Nonu on his inside, who sprinted in under the posts. Gopperth’s conversion made it a one-point ball game.
Hill then kicked his first penalty, to add to his two conversions, to give the home side a 17-13 half-time lead.
Waikato struck immediately after the break when the ball spat out the back of a Wellington scrum and Kelleher grounded it on the tryline. Opposite number Piri Weepu was perhaps guilty of waiting for the ball to go over the line instead of going for it straight away.
Two penalties from Gopperth and another from Hill saw Waikato lead 27-19 going into the final quarter. Gopperth had a chance to bring his side back within five only for his penalty attempt to hit the right-hand upright.
Waikato’s replacement scrumhalf Brendan Leonard then went over from a 5m scrum with eight minutes to go, before Nonu responded with his second try of the night. Gopperth’s conversion went past the left-hand post and 10 points separated the sides.
Hill kicked another penalty before Tana Umaga scored a consolation try for Wellington just before full-time. While there was still time for the kick-off, Waikato forced the turnover inside Wellington’s 22 and booted the ball into touch.
Waikato - Tries: Richard Kahui, Byron Kelleher (2), Brendan Leonard. Conversions: David Hill (4). Penalties: Hill (3).
Wellington - Tries: Ma’au Nonu (2), Tana Umaga. Conversions: Jimmy Gopperth (2). Penalties: Gopperth (5).