Wellington has secured a Mitre 10 Cup Championship home semi-final at Westpac Stadium after a 27-24 bonus point win over Otago at Westpac Stadium.
The Lions seventh win of the season means they have locked in home advantage for the Championship playoffs with two rounds of the regular season to play, against Southland and Northland.
Playing in one-off charity jerseys which will be auctioned for Wellington Children’s Hospital, the Lions ran in four tries, two to wing Ben Lam, one to captain Julian Savea and the other to big prop Alex Fidow to also take the Mike Gibson Memorial Trophy off their southern rivals.
Alex Fidow. PHOTO: Getty Sport
Otago proved a tough nut to crack for the Championship leaders and led 11-10 at halftime in a match that see-sawed and wasn’t decided until a Jackson Garden-Bachop penalty broke a 24-24 deadlock with four minutes to play.
In a match filled with drama the Lions led 24-17, but opened the door to an Otago comeback with 13 minutes to play when replacement centre Billy Proctor was yellow carded for not rolling away.
Julian Savea leads the Lions out. PHOTO: Getty Sport
Otago pounced with a try to wing Vilimoni Koroi to tie the scores before Garden-Bachop delivered the final blow with a penalty from a handy angle.
Wellington had started well and led 5-3 when Fidow showed off his acceleration by slicing and fending his way to the try line after receiving an inside pass from Garden-Bachop.
Lam got his first try when he strolled over on the blindside of a ruck near the Otago line and at 10-6 Wellington looked to be taking control.
However, Otago were never going to go quietly and struck back near halftime when halfback Jonathon Ruru scored out wide to put his side ahead at the break.
Ben Lam. Photo: Getty Sport
Fullback Fletcher Smith added a third and fourth penalty to his two first half efforts after halftime as the visitor’s went out to a 17-10 lead.
Lam’s second try was a brilliant solo effort as he showed off his incredible speed to skirt his opposite from 50 metres out to tie the scores at 17-all with half an hour to play.
Savea scored following a scintillating break from centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen as the lead changed for the sixth time in the match to set up a thrilling final quarter.
JULIAN SAVEA ACCEPTS THE MIKE GIBSON MEMORIAL TROPHY FROM OTAGO CAPTAIN TEI WALDON. PHOTO: GETTY SPORT
The Lions clung on in the the final minutes with head coach Chris Gibbes emptying his bench, including lock Alex Dalzell, who made his Wellington debut.
Wellington 27 (Ben Lam (2), Alex Fidow, Julian Savea tries, Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 con, pen) Otago 24 (Jonathon Ruru, Vilimoni Koroi tries, Fletcher Smith con, 4 pen). HT: 11-10 (Otago)