Trailing by fifteen points at half-time, Wellington came from behind to beat a feisty Northland outfit 31-28 in a thrilling ITM Cup clash at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
The Lions secured their fourth win of the season when prop John Schwalger burrowed over for a converted try in the 76th minute after an attacking 5m scrum.
Wellington supporters then had their hands on their hearts in the 80th minute as Northland full-back Lachlan Munro pushed a penalty opportunity to the right of the uprights that would have tied the scores up.
The Lions had previously scored two quickfire converted tries in the second half to claw back a 10-25 half-time deficit to 24-25 with 15 minutes remaining.
After scoring two unconverted tries in the first half, to centre Shaun Treeby and flanker Victor Vito, wing Julian Savea and Vito (again) scored in the 56th and 59th minutes to set up the thrilling finish.
In a fast-paced game played at breakneck speed, Schwalger's match winner scored through the forwards in close quarter play went against the previous pattern of the contest, but was a hugely welcome one for Lions players and supporters alike.
The visitors had earlier set the tone of the match, making a flying start and opening the scoring in the fifth minute when winger Rene Ranger scorched through a midfield hole and set up a long-range try to centre Aaron Bancroft.
Munro was unable to convert, but he extended his side's lead to 8-0 with a 35m penalty in the 15th minute.
From the next restart, Northland pivot David Holwell dropped the ball, forcing a Lions attacking scrum inside the 22. In his 50th game for Wellington, halfback Alby Mathewson surged towards the line but was dragged down short and Northland conceded a penalty and another scrum.
This time off the set-piece, captain andnmber eight Rodney So'oialo flung a wide pass out to Treeby who picked up a bouncing ball, spun around and raced in for a try. Fly-half Fa'atonu Fili couldn't add the extras from wide out but the Lions trailed 5-8 with a quarter of the game gone.
Munro landed another penalty, before the Northlanders flashed in for their second try off another Ranger break. Counter-attacking from deep inside their own territory, Ranger dashed up the left-hand touchline before handing a pass to blindside Dean Budd in support who raced another 20m to score the try.
Munro's conversion pushed Northland out to an 18-5 lead in the 25th minute.
The Lions answered with their second try in style five minutes later, through a combination of patience and precision after setting up ruck ball inside the attacking zone. Savea burst towards the line and offloaded in the tackle for Vito to score in the corner. Again, Fili was unable to convert from a difficult angle and the score stood at 18-10 to Northland.
The Taniwha were able to surge ahead again to take a 25-10 lead, with their third try and Budd's second coming from a Lions mistake on their own scrum feed. The ball spat out the side for Budd to collect, kick and chase and then follow up to eventually smoke in for another try that was sparked up on his own side of halfway.
The Lions finished off the first half with promise and were unlucky not close the deficit after the hooter had sounded following strong bursts by Treeby, Fili and replacement Alapati Leuia, now on for Charlie Ngatai.
Following the half-time refreshments, the match continued to be played at a fast pace, both sides intent on playing expansively and feeding their outside backs.
The Lions missed with two early chances to close the score, through a Fili penalty that hit the uprights and a stab kick into the in-goal after a long build up that led to a 22 re-start for Northland.
Awarded a penalty 15m from Northland's tryline, the Lions opted for another scrum and scored through Savea, on the right-hand blindside after a So'oialo pass from the base of the set piece. Fili nailed the conversion to close the gap to 25-17 after 57 minutes.
They then closed to within a point after scoring the try of the match from a wonderful counter-attack from deep inside their 22, turning a frantic defensive situation into a sublime attacking one.
The move started with Northland centre and skipper Jared Payne following up his own kick and chase and putting pressure on Fili clearing up at the back. But Fili evaded two tacklers and offloaded to Jeremy Thrush in support near the sideline.
Thrush found wing Hosea Hear, who raced ahead and in turn found Vito who scored his second try at the end of the 70m movement. Fili converted the Lions' bonus-point try to make it 25-24
Munro edged Northland ahead to 28-24 with his third penalty, setting up the drama-filled final 15 minutes.
Tries: Treeby, Vito 2, Savea, Schwalger
Cons: Fili 3
Tries: Bancroft, Budd 2
Cons: Munro 2
Pens: Munro 3
Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Shaun Treeby, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Fa'atonu Fili, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So'oialo (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Dane Coles, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Faifili Levave, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Northland: 15 Lachie Munro, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Jared Payne (c),12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 David Holwell, 9 Rhyan Caine, 8 Cameron Eyre, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Dean Budd, 5 Mark Burman, 4 Pat O'Connor, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Mikaele Tuu'u, 1 Matt Wallis.
Replacements: 16 Tim Dow, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Paea Fa'anunu, 19 Roy Griffin, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Aiden Dewes, 22 Iwi Hauraki.
Referee: Richard Kelly