Canterbury bounced back from last week's upset ITM Cup defeat to Taranaki with a 37-30 win over Wellington in Christchurch on Saturday.
A late furry of scoring with the wind behind them earned the home side their victory over the Lions in front of a bumper home crowd that was given free entry in respect of the recent Canterbury earthquake.
In an even contest throughout, both sides played open and enterprising rugby whenever possible and each scored four tries. But it was Canterbury tries in the 64th and 68th minutes that helped make the difference, giving them a 34-25 lead heading into the last 10 minutes.
With Wellington in front 25-20 following a try off the back of a scrum to number eight Faifili Levave, Canterbury full-back Sean Maitland scored in the corner and fly-half Colin Slade converted to put his team ahead for the first time since midway through the first half.
Replacement centre Sonny Bill Williams then broke through for a second quickfire converted try to extend their advantage to nine points.
The Lions hit back almost immediately through scrum-half Alby Mathewson who stole the ball from the back of a Canterbury scrum on their own tryline and darted over for a five-pointer, bringing the score back to 34-30.
The home side were able to re-establish field position and hold off the Lions once more and Slade was able to kick a late penalty to make sure of the victory.
Despite the defeat and Canterbury's retention of the Harry Saundercock Memorial Trophy, the Lions earned two competition points and will remain near the top of the ITM Cup points table at the conclusion of this weekend's tenth round.
Tighthead prop Neemia Tialata failed a pre-game fitness test on his injured ankle and wing Hosea Gear assumed the captaincy of the Lions for the first time.
It was Gear who helped spark the Lions to a 20-13 lead at half-time with a pair of wonderful tries, after Canterbury had opened the scoring in the 12th minute through their speedster Telusa Veaniu who took a final pass from former Wellington centre Robbie Fruean after a midfield scrum turnover.
Wellington answered through Gear who raced up into the defensive line and plucked a Canterbury pass out of the air and cruised 60 metres for a try under the bar. Fly-half Lima Sopoaga's conversion evened up the ledger to 7-7 after 17 minutes.
Both sides probed for further opportunities and Slade and Sopoaga exchanged penalties to make it 10-10.
The tight run of play ensued. Slade put his side back in the lead with a penalty in front. Sopoaga replied with his second penalty after a concerted period of attack, making it 13-13 after 30 minutes.
Sopoaga put Canterbury back inside their 22 with a pinpoint touch-finder into the corner. Canterbury's defensive line-out was overthrown and the loose ball was snaffled at the back by flanker Scott Fugistaller.
From Fugistaller's initial incursion, Wellington swung play both ways across the posts to Gear, who effortlessly steamed in for his second try. Sopoaga converted to put the Lions ahead 20-13.
A Slade penalty attempt hit the uprights, before a Sizzling break by Julian Savea put the Lions back into the attacking zone. Canterbury held on and the half-time hooter sounded soon after with the home side inside Wellington's half of play.
Now with the wind advantage, it was Canterbury's turn to score next through halfback Andy Ellis who finished off a sweeping movement.
Canterbury failed to control the next re-start, leading to a Lions scrum and surge at the line by the Lions forwards. Prop David Te Moana crashed over in a heap of bodies for a try in reply that the TMO couldn't award due to inconclusive evidence.
But with the heat still on, the Lions attacked from a 5m scrum and Levave made a powerful burst at the chalk and was rewarded with a try. Sopoaga pushed the conversion wide but the visitors were back in front at 25-20.
Maitland scored in the corner in broken play and Slade converted to put Canterbury back in front with 15 minutes remaining.
Sonny Bill Williams scored his try next. Slade's conversion extended their advantage to 34-25 and the Lions now needed to score twice with 12 minutes on the clock.
Flanker Api Naikatini couldn't reel in a fingertips pass in the left-hand corner, leading to a defensive Canterbury scrum feed.
From the set-piece, Mathewson snaffled the ball from Canterbury number eight Nasi Manu's grasp and came up with the Lions' bonus-point try and the deficit was whittled back to four points ahead of a tense final nine minutes of play.
Tries: Veainu, Ellis, Maitland, Williams
Cons: Slade 4
Pens: Slade 3
Tries: Gear 2, Levave, Mathewson
Pens: Sopoaga 2
Canterbury: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 George Whitelock (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Andrew Olorenshaw, 18 Rob Verbakel, 19 Ash Parker, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Shaun Treeby, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Api Naikatini, 5 Nick Passi, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata/David Te Moana, 2 Dane Coles, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 David Te Moana/Reg Goodes, 18 Brad Shields, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Fa'atonu Fili, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence