Wellington scored their first win of the Mitre 10 Cup rugby season, holding on 23-22 to continue Canterbury’s losing start, but they did it without Fifita, who was a surprise omission with an as-yet unspecified knee complaint.
Fifita was one of nine All Blacks released to play in the Mitre 10 Cup ahead of the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup squad announcement on Wednesday, and missed out on one final chance to impress in the final push to make the Cup squad.
Fifita is likely up against Liam Squire – if he makes himself available – and Jackson Hemopo for one of the loose forward spots in the 31-man squad, but will now have to hope that he is both fit enough, and has done enough, to be selected.
Without Fifita, Wellington trailed 10-8 at the break but stormed to a 20-10 lead with two tries in the opening four minutes of the second half. Canterbury forced their way back into the match with two tries, the last in the 77th minute from a lineout maul closing the gap to a single point, but could not quite finish the job.
This is unfamiliar territory for the red and blacks, who lost last year’s final to Auckland having won nine of the previous 10 national provincial titles, but have now lost their first three games in 2019, a slump they haven’t suffered the likes of in over 20 years.
They will not get a better opportunity to win next weekend however, hosting a Southland side on a 23-match losing streak.
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