CAPTION: Wellington hooker Leni Apisai stretches over for a try during the Lions 40-37 Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal loss to North Harbour. PHOTO: Dave Lintott
Wellington’s Mitre 10 Cup Championship campaign came to an entertaining, but ultimately disappointing end with a 40-37 loss to North Harbour at Westpac Stadium.
Despite out-scoring North Harbour five tries to four, the Lions were left to lament some costly errors and missed tackles as they bowed out of the title race a week short of the final.
It was a frustrating end to a campaign that at times promised great things, but for reasons unknown stuttered over the final month with four straight losses.
There was no lack of effort from captain Brad Shields and his charges, but execution, particularly in defence proved costly as they were often the architects of their own demise.
In the semi-final there was a mix of brilliant and not so brilliant from the Lions.
Hooker Leni Apisai’s try highlighted all the skills of the team as the ball was transferred between backs and forwards during a long and sustained build up.
Wings Wes Goosen and Joe Hill showed their ability with ball in hand as the Lions made 11 line breaks to North Harbour’s five, and the scrum, led by USA prop Chris Baumann was solid as a rock.
A well finished try by Hill in the corner, then another to young replacement hooker Asafo Aumua who capped a fine season with his sixth try of the campaign saw the Lions fight back from 30-18 down to tie the match up with 12 minutes to play.
But lapses of concentration proved costly.
The home side gave up an early try from an intercept and conceded tries either side of halftime.
And after Aumua’s try had given hope of a comeback, they allowed Harbour to score almost immediately after the kick off when wing Tevita Li broke through from a set piece move to put Daniel Hilton-Jones over for the decisive try of the match.
Harbour first five Bryn Gatland then knocked over his fourth penalty to put the match beyond reach meaning Wellington halfback Sheridan Rangihuna’s try on fulltime could not change the result.
North Harbour advanced to the province’s first national provincial final since 1994. They will play Otago at Forysth Barr Stadium in Dunedin next Friday.
North Harbour 40 (Tevita Li, Glenn Preston, Nic Mayhew, Daniel Hilton-Jones tries; Bryn Gatland 4 pen, 4 con) Wellington 37 (Leni Apisai, Wes Goosen, Joe Hill, Asafo Aumua, Sheridan Rangihuna tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 20-18