Wellington end Southland's Cinderella year
Wellington spiked Southland's party drinks with a 34-21 Air NZ Cup semifinal win in the capital.
Wellington qualified for their fourth successive final, against Canterbury in Christchurch, after a fast-paced gameplan proved too hot for Southland to handle.
Southland entered the match still buoyant from an historic Ranfurly Shield victory over Canterbury nine days earlier but could not repeat such heroics against a well oiled Wellington team.
The visitors had been forced to dampen their post-shield celebrations to concentrate on the playoff, and early signs emerged that they would struggle to match the highs experienced the previous week in Christchurch.
They briefly threatened to do so as a 14-point burst within the space of five minutes after the interval saw them lead 21-19, but Wellington finished full of running and a late brace of tries to substitute hooker Dane Coles were hammer blows to Southland's hopes.
Wellington, helped out by a heavy penalty count from referee Chris Pollock, adopted up-tempo tactics from the start, using a dominant scrum, fleet footed backs and rampant loose forward unit featuring Victor Vito and Serge Lilo to give Southland little respite.
Boasting the best defensive record in the competition this season, Southland conceded just one try in the first half but the constant pressure showed elsewhere as Wellington first five-eighth Piri Weepu landed four penalties during the stanza as the visitors paid a price for their infringing.
Weepu was equally influential in general play, mixing his options as he ensured Southland were always second guessing his intentions. Weepu finished with 19 points with a seven-from-nine return.
Southland had their moments and capped a brief period of dominance in the first spell with the game's first try when hooker Jason Rutledge took a short ball at pace near the tryline before his momentum took him over.
But with Weepu regularly converting his goalkicking opportunities, Wellington hit the front at 9-7 before wing David Smith stretched their lead with a fine try in the 33rd minute.
His try had its origins in a strong scrum push after which prop Anthony Perenise made a brief dab before halfback Alby Mathewson linked with his wing.
Ahead 19-7 at halftime, Wellington continued to make the play after the break but were jolted on to their heels when Southland halfback Scott Cowan scored a try against the run of play.
Cowan kept his side in the contest with a great individual effort when he snatched the ball from the grasp of Mathewson then scampered 50m to the line.
His effort recharged Southland's batteries and they were in again 5min later when a 50m burst from second five-eighth Jason Kawau was finished off by centre Kenny Lynn.
Weepu's fifth penalty edged his side ahead again at 22-21 and ensured a thrilling final quarter as coach Jamie Joseph went to his reserves bench for fresh legs.
Two replacements then featured in Wellington's second try after wing Hosea Gear made the initial thrust before linking with Coles on the left-hand touchline.
Coles exhibited surprising pace and even a sidestep before passing infield to replacement Mark Reddish, who committed the last tackler before finding Coles for a telling blow in the 66th minute.
Coles was in again just 7min later after a Weepu crosskick saw Vito burst clear before drawing the last defender for Coles to grab his second try.
Wellington 34 (Dane Coles 2, David Smith tries; Piri Weepu 5 pen, 2 con) Southland 21 (Jason Rutledge, Scott Cowan, Kenny Lynn tries; Robbie Robinson 3 con). Halftime: 19-7.