Wellington’s winning run over Southland has ticked over to 14 games after a comprehensive 61-12 win in Invercargill.
Under new captain Galu Taufale, the Lions ran in nine tries to bank their eighth win from nine matches in the Mitre 10 Championship, and extend their lead at the top of the table.
With one regular season match to play, against Northland at Westpac Stadium on Thursday, Wellington are assured of hosting a home semi-final with 42 competition points.
Northland is currently second on the Championship ladder with 25 points, followed by Bay of Plenty (23), Manawatu (22) and Otago (21).
Wellington were simply too good for Southland on a perfect night in Invercargill where the visitor’s up-tempo game plan proved too quick for the home side.
The Lions ran in five converted tries in the first half for a 35-0 lead with first five Jackson Garden-Bachop converting them all before departing at halftime with a personal tally of 15 points.
Southland fought back well in the second half, but eventually succumb to the energy of a bench Lions head coach Chris Gibbes used early in the match to concede three tries in the final 12 minutes.
Fullback Trent Renata got the party started after 15 minutes when he showed good strength to wriggle over and two minutes later lock Will Mangos waltzed through an enormous hole to score beside the posts.
Southland were in shock when Garden-Bachop intercepted to race 80 metres for a 21-0 lead after 24 minutes and the body blows kept coming.
Hooker Asafo Aumua was driven over from a lineout on the 36 minute mark, then set off on a trademark bumping run from the kick off to set up a try for Thomas Umaga-Jensen that made it 35-0 at the break.
Gibbes started to empty his bench at half time with Wes Goosen making a welcome return from an injury layoff to score with his first touch of the ball, but the Lions lost shape as the subs settled into their work.
Southland finally got some reward when flanker Tim Boys crashed over in the corner despite a solid defensive effort from Renata, but Wellington rediscovered their rhythm in the final quarter.
Midfielder Regan Verney had a noticeable impact on proceedings and scored in the 69th minute when he spun through some weak defence, then replacement hooker Sitiveni Paongo took the direct route through the middle of the park to bring up the 50.
Halfback Kemara Hauiti-Parapara raced away after a strong counter attack from wing Malo Tuitama as Wellington reached their highest score against Southland, eclipsing the 60 points they tallied in 2016.
The nine tries on the night were also a Lions record against Southland, equalling the nine scored by Wellington against the Stags in 1999.
To Southland’s credit they didn’t give up and replacement forward Mike McKee had the last say when he scored near the posts in the 84th minute.
Wellington 61 (Trent Renata, Will Mangos, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Asafo Aumua, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Wes Goosen, Regan Verney, Sitiveni Paongo, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara tries, Garden-Bachop 5 con, Renata 3 con) Southland 12 (Tim Boys, Mike McKee tries, Dyer con). HT: 35-0.