Waikato kept their ITM Cup final hopes alive with a 31-27 win over Wellington at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Tuesday.
It was a crucial win for the Mooloo Men, who bounced back from last weekend's record defeat at the hands of Manawatu and now lead the race towards a place in the Premiership final with one round remaining.
The Lions grabbed a possibly crucial losing bonus point at the end, but were undone earlier in the second half by a committed Waikato side who overhauled Wellington's 17-15 half-time lead and kept their noses in front over the last quarter of the match.
The Lions had earned their half-time lead on the back of two tries scored at the start and the end of the first half.
The visitors' early 7-0 lead was reduced to a two-point margin thanks to Waikato wing Henry Speight's try in the corner, after the hosts took advantage of a yellow card shown to Lions flanker Scott Fugistaller.
Wellington pivot Lima Sopoaga and Waikato full-back Trent Renata exchanged penalties in quick succession and the Lions led 10-8 after 30 minutes as Fuglistaller returned to the field.
Waikato scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow took a quick tap and scampered towards the tryline and was held up just short. But from the ensueing attacking scrum, centre Save Tokula ran hard at the uprights and was awarded a try. Renata's conversion put Waikato ahead for the first time.
The Lions finished the first half with a flury and responded with a great try through centre Michael Hobbs, who ran on a pass in broken play, pinned his ears back and sprinted all the way to the chalk.
Sopoaga's conversion put the Lions back in front and they led 17-15 at half-time.
Sopoaga kicked a long-range penalty early in the second half that extended the lead to 20-15, but Renata pegged the three points back immediately with his second penalty.
Renata kicked his side into the lead after a period of pressure under the posts and extended the advantage two minutes later with another penalty.
The Mooloo incursion kept coming and wing Tim Mikkelson slipped through to score in the left-hand corner. Renata's conversion sailed over and the home team now led 31-20.
The Lions regained quality possession and fought hard to create try-scoring opportunities, but were unable to score until the end when a breakout and counter-attack in open play led to wing Julian Savea being put in the clear.
Savea was brought down on the 40-metre line, but quick recyling and a handy inside transfer from Sopoaga to Apoua Stewart created the try that gave them a bonus point.
Try: Speight, Tokula, Mikkelson
Cons: Renata 2
Pens: Renata 4
Tries: Leiua, Hobbs, Stewart
Cons: L Sopoaga 3
Pens: L Sopoaga 2
Waikato: 15 Trent Renata, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Save Tokula, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tim Mikkelson, 10 Sam Christie, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Matt Vant Leven, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Toby Lynn (C), 3 Ben May, 2 Marcel Cummings-Toone, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Vance Elliot, 17 Nathan White, 18 Chris Middleton, 19 Zak Hohneck, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Rena Schuster, 22 Frank Halai, 23 Ted Tauroa.
Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Arden David-Perrot, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Joe Latta, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Michael Lealava'a, 22 Steve Honey, 23 Solomona Sakalia.