Wellington struggled to a 35-27 ITM Cup victory over North Harbour having at held a 21-0 lead at one stage in the first half.
Wellington struggled to a 35-27 ITM Cup victory over North Harbour having at one stage held a 21-0 lead.
The Lions were quick out of the blocks, running in three tries before their visitors could get on the scoreboard, but a terrific comeback from James Parsons' men nearly resulted in a shock result.
TJ Perenara opened the scoring for Wellington after just three minutes when he dotted down after a sweeping move which began in the Lions' 22.
The home side had all of the running early on and Jeremy Thrush's attacking tactics were rewarded when Lima Sopoaga sliced through the Harbour defence for Wellington's second try after his skipper had turned down kickable penalties in favour of going for touch.
The one-way traffic continued with Charlie Ngatai notching up the third try of the match in the 26th minute after a woeful attempted tackle from Francis Saili allowed the centre to stroll over. With Sopoaga having converted all three tries, the Lions had raced to a 21-0 lead.
Just when it appeared that the match was all but over, North Harbour sprung to life and opened up their account through a try from Nafi Tuitavake in the 36th minute. Saili made up for his earlier lapse with a great run before overloading to Tuitavake who went over for the score.
There was time for Harbour to sneak in a second before the break too, schoolboy Tevita Li demonstrating devastating speed as he notched up try number two. Codey Rei added his second conversion to see Wellington take a 21-14 lead into the break.
Harbour continued their resurgence after the break with a 51st minute penalty from Rei reducing the gap to just four points.
Sopoaga restored the seven-point lead with a penalty of his own as the Lions found some momentum which saw them pick up the bonus point try as Ngatia powered over in the corner after good work from Victor Vito who had come on off the bench.
A further three-pointer from Sopoaga stretched the lead to 15 points with the score at 32-17, but Harbour refused to go down without a fight.
Rei added a penalty before producing a great cut-out pass that put Saili into space and over for his first of the night.
At 32-27 with seven minutes to go, Harbour where in with a shot of a miracle comeback, but it was not to be as the Lions defence held out. A Sopoaga penalty on the stroke of full time rubbed salt into the visitor's wounds as they were cruelly denied a bonus point.
Tries: Perenara, Sopoaga, Ngatai
Conversions: Sopoaga 3
Penalties: Sopoaga 3
Tries: Tuitavake, Li, Saili
Conversions: Rei 3
Penalties: Rei 2
Wellington: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Joe Hill, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Ambrose Curtis, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 John Schwalger, 17 Eric Sione, 18 Kaipati Gaualofa, 19 Adam Hill, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Frae Wilson, 22 Shaun Treeby.
North Harbour: 15. James Semple, 14. Jona Tuitoga, 13. Francis Saili, 12. Tua Saseve, 11. Tevita Li, 10. Codey Rei, 9. Bryn Hall, 8. Viliami Fihaki, 7. Nepia Fox, 6. Irwin Finau, 5. Brandon Nansen, 4. Chris Smith, 3. Ropate Rinakama, 2. James Parsons (C), 1. Alex Woonton.
Replacements: 16. Adrian Smith, 17. Greg Pleasants Tate,18. Malakai Ravulo, 19. Scott Uren, 20. Luke Hamilton, 21. Jon Elrick, 22. Nafi Tuitavake