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A Jason Woodward suspension provided the perfect opportunity for Andrew Wells to stake a claim for the Ricoh Wellington Lions’ number-15 jersey in front of just over 3000 home fans at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Having only previously played out of position on the wing, Wells was looking to take the opportunity to start at his preferred fullback position with both hands, something that would’ve been made easier had his side been on the front foot.
“It would’ve been nice to be out there as part of a winning side, but despite that, it was really good to get a start in my preferred position and it gave me an opportunity to try and put my hand up for the jersey,” Wells said.
After making the shift from first-five, where he played at school, Wells’ limited opportunities for the Lions came mainly on the wing, but this is something Wells believes helped him get used to the step up to ITM Cup rugby.
“From the first couple of games I’ve played [of ITM Cup rugby], it’s a lot faster than club rugby, so I’ve got to work a lot harder off the ball, and just being out on the field in any position has certainly helped me adjust to that.”
Wells’ opportunities from the back were limited in the early stages of the match, with Tasman controlling most of the possession and territory in the first half and Wells forced to scramble in defence, but he was unable to shut out the Tasman attack as the visitors went ahead 21–6 at the break.
Poor discipline and missed first-up tackles proved costly for the Lions, as the boot of Marty Banks helped ensure Tasman’s lead kept growing, something Wells admits was frustrating standing at the back.
“It’s really frustrating not being able to get our hands on the ball and hold onto the ball for long periods of time. You’re going to struggle to win games if you can’t get the ball in your hands,” said Wells of the lack of attack from Wellington.
And it was much of the same in the second half for Wellington, as they couldn’t seem to bring any flow into their game and spent most of the time scrambling back on defence.
In terms of games to stand out in, this wasn’t one of them. Wells had the perfect opportunity to show what he could do from the back by being handed the start, but unfortunately, he spent most of his 50-minute cameo returning kicks and scrambling to make tackles as the front line of defence seemingly disappeared.
“We just couldn’t hold onto the ball tonight, and we were making silly mistakes and turning the ball over far too easily, and I suppose that’s what cost us.”
A try to prop Tolu Fahamokioa and replacement Eric Sione late in the game gave the home fans something to cheer about, but a runaway try after a clean strip in the tackle to Tasman flanker Pete Samu made sure any celebrations were short-lived as the visitors ran away with the game 42–20.
So, it’s now official. The Lions’ season is an absolute disaster. It’s hard to imagine how this season could get much worse for Wellington who seem destined to be relegated from the Premiership in what would be a huge blow to the pride of a proud province.
Coach Boyd has had to juggle an enormous player turnover from last year’s squad and a horror injury toll this season, but he could still call upon ten players with Super Rugby experience in his match-day 22 for the last game.
However, in two weeks, the Lions get a chance to have a crack at coveted Log o’ Wood. All they need is a win away from home against Hawke’s Bay and the Lions will bring some sort of joy to an otherwise incredibly miserable season.