Arriving 15 minutes before kick-off Wellington heard that the referee had decided the first team pitch was unplayable, so the match was moved to Harlequins training pitch. This was really short and narrow, which favoured the heavy weight Bristol Harlequins team.
With only a 5 minute warm up, and playing uphill, the first minutes of play had Harlequins testing the visitors deep in their 22, but the Welly defence held firm. After about 10 minutes, Wellington worked their way into Quins 22 where number 8 Ben Hayman picked up and drove on, before feeding the ball out to scrum half Leigh Cash, who dummied a chip over the top and ran through to open the scoring.
Wellington then sat back for a while, allowing Harlequins dictate play, and after about 10 minutes Quins scored through a maul off of a line out. The conversion meant that they went in at halftime 7- 5 up.
Stern words from skipper Dave Turney refocused the team as they anticipated Quins to be stronger in the second half.
This proved exactly right, as they threw everything, including the kitchen sink at Welly. However showing good skills and hard tackling, the visitors defence held strong.
With about fifteen minutes to go, the younger Wellington side’s superior fitness started to show, as Quins larger side started to leave gaps in their defence. A few effective rolling mauls moved the home side back into their own 22, and an off side infringement gifted welly a penalty which Ricky Marke gratefully converted to give Wellington a slender 7-8 lead.
Cool heads were now needed and smart rugby, so as not to let the lead slip. Leading by example, the skipper again moved Wellington deep down into the home 22. From a lineout, Wellington drove deeper, to about ten metres out where the maul splintered. Hayman was brought down 5 metres out, but the ball was rucked over and popped to Joe Dyke who was driven over for the score, Marke converted to make it 7-15.
Straight from the kick off, Welly hit hard, again getting themselves deep into the opposition half. Good ball retention and recycling saw the ball fed wide to the backs who cleverly used a decoy runner to open a massive gap for George Hodgson to run in unchallenged. Again Marke converted. The game finished 7-22 to Wellington.
It was hard work in the first half but showing a bit of aggression and good fitness levels Welly played the whole 80 minutes to great effect. Stand out players on the day were Leigh Cash at 9, Joe Dyke who stepped up on the bench answering a late call, and Jack Richards, whose passion and aggressive play helped the visitors to up their game as a whole. A good day for Wellington, even given the mud bath conditions, and a credit to Welly’s fitness and skills.
Match report: Mike Brewer