Wellington stayed on course for an Air NZ Cup semi-final spot after a laboured 37-13 win over North Harbour on Saturday.
Wellington stayed well on course for an Air New Zealand Cup semi-final spot after a laboured 37-13 home victory over North Harbour on Saturday.
The Lions were held to 13-13 at the break by their visitors, who were reinforced by All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock, but once their noses were in front in a tepid second half courtesy of a converted try by Alipate Leiua and another penalty from Fa'atonu Fili, there was little danger of an upset.
Fili put the home side in front with two penalties as Wellington sought to go about business with a minimum of fuss, but Ma'a Nonu's reluctance to look outside him – it was a feature of his play all day – cost the Lions dear after 25 minutes when he lost the ball in contact and Michael Harris was able to break away and feed Nafi Tuitavake for the game's opening try under the posts.
Harris extended his side's lead with a penalty and deservedly so as the visitors had dominated the territory. But a better handling move from the Wellington backs sent Hosea Gear away down the left. His kick ahead was fielded by Tuitavake, but turned over, and four phases later Jacob Ellison crashed over, with Fili converting to make it 13-10.
Harris' second penalty, right on the half-time hooter, balanced the scoreline and set up what could have been an intriguing second half.
The second half was stodgy, not helped by the weather, but throwing up a fascinating – at times over-aggressive – wrestling match between Woodcock and Neemia Tialata in the scrum.
Wellington gave away a string of penalties as well, much to Serge Lilo's disgust as he was caught doing things that other opensides get away with far too often.
But finally the Lions broke free. First a good line-out drive set up a platform for Nonu to half-break and send Leiua free to score.
Then, after Fili had landed a third, it was Nonu himself who darted through from close range for the third.
Gear rounded off the scoring after Cory Jane – heavily bandaged and frequently bleeding from a nasty forehead wound – had made another telling break.
That bonus point could yet be crucial, but Wellington are one foot in the door of the semi-finals now.
Tries: J.Ellison, Leiua, Nonu, Gear
Cons: Fili 4
Pens: Fili 3
For North Harbour:
Pens: Harris 2
Wellington: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Alapati Leuia, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Fa'atonu Fili, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Daniel Ramsay, 4 Jacob Ellison (c), 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Anthony Perenise, 18 Polonga Pedro, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Shaun Treeby, 22 David Smith.
North Harbour: 15 Jack McPhee, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Andrew Mailei, 11 Ken Pisi, 10 Michael Harris, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Tom Chamberlain, 6 Anthony Boric (c), 5 Filo Paulo, 4 James King, 3 Michael Reid, 2 Michael Mayhew, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Chris Smith, 19 Scott Uren, 20 Nalu Tuigamala, 21 Ben Botica, 22 Hayden Abercrombie.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence