Wellington made as many mistakes as they made line breaks, but were still able to out run a brave Bay of Plenty side in an entertaining 36-26 win at Mt Manganui.
The Lions out-scored the home side three tries to two and it was clearly their intention to win on foot as they threw the ball wide at every opportunity to improve their record to five wins and two losses.
It proved a successful tactic in the end with tries to lock Ross Filipo, wing Alapati Leiua and second five eighth Shaun Treeby and 21 points from the boot of first five eighth Lima Sopoaga ensuring four national championship points.
However, it was far from an easy win with Bay of Plenty's pack, nippy halfback Lewis Hancock, the ever present threat of wing Lelia Masaga, and some sloppy Wellington ball retention keeping it close til the final quarter.
Sopoaga’s first start of the season was a major bonus for the Lions, his five penalties and three conversions giving him a perfect eight of eight attempts at goal.
So too were some big scrums from the Wellington pack late in the game, one of which produced a tighthead and led directly to a try to Treeby.
Filipo was an influential figure with some crucial plays and hooker Dane Coles showed his all round skills in a fast-paced game.
Hancock looked a quality player with his pass and an eye for a gap around the ruck and it was his long pass from the first scrum of the match gave Noakes acres of space to make a wide cut with wing Mafi Kefu, who used the distance from the scrum to fend off openside Scott Fuglistaller and run in under the posts.
But it was Wellington spinning the ball wide with impunity from the outset, encouraged by early success when wing Alapati Leiua easily stepped his marker to set up Filipo for the pick-and-go try.
Sopoaga's conversion tying the scores at 10-10 after as many minutes and there was further success when Leiua scored the try of the match, a freakish 100-metre team effort that began from a back-pedalling scrum on their goal line.
Halfback Kayne Hammington bobbled the ball onto the goalpost pad, recovered then spun it to his backs on the blindside.
After a neat dab from wing Matt Proctor it was flung wide where Coles sliced through like a back, then found Filipo who delivered the final pass to Leiua for a 20-10 lead.
But with ambition came risk and a combination of Wellington errors and Bay of Plenty grit saw the momentum swing.
The home pack took a hold on proceedings and ground their way up the middle of the park behind hard working openside Tanerau Latimer.
First five-eighth Chris Noakes banged over two penalties to close the gap to 20-16, but didn't fully capitalise on a period of dominance with two costly misses before Sopoaga closed out the half with his third penalty.
But the Bay couldn't sustain their effort after the break and the Wellington scrum shunted them off their own feed ten minutes into the second half allowing Treeby to shoot onto a short ball and under the posts.
Wellington might have thought they'd finally quelled the resistance, but Masaga produced a brilliant run up the middle of the park, then finished off a sustained attack, then Noakes kicked his fourth penalty and at 30-26 it was anyone's match with 20 to play.
Sopoaga rounded out the scoring with two penalties, the last from a huge Wellington scrum.
The loss was Bay of Plenty's fifth from seven matches and leaves them languishing near the foot of the premiership table.
- Fairfax Media
What did you make of this year's ITM Cup?