Wellington: 27 (Ben Lam 2, Alex Fidow, Julian Savea tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 con, pen) Otago: 24 (Jonathan Ruru, Vilimoni Koroi tries; Fletcher Smith 4 pen, con).
It wasn’t always pretty, but Wellington did enough to secure a bonus point victory over Otago. Wellington won the game with two tries in five minutes, turning a 17-10 deficit into a 24-17 advantage after 55 minutes.
In the 50th minute Otago had a kick charged down on the halfway line. The ball bounced favourably, and in space, for Ben Lam who swerved around the last defender and galloped away to score.
Moments later Thomas Umaga-Jensen collected an errant pass and spun through multiple tackles before offloading to Kemara Hauiti-Parapara who was stopped narrowly short of the posts. Quick ruck ball followed and Asafo Aumua cleared to Julian Savea who crashed over despite determined Otago defence.
For the most part Wellington’s performance lacked polish. The set-piece struggled, handling was poor and discipline wavered. The Lions conceded eight penalties alone in the first-half and Billy Procter was yellow carded in the second spell allowing Otago to draw level when NZ Sevens rep Vilimoni Koroi chased down a kick by centre Sio Tomkinson.
Wellington started brightly enough when Jackson Garden-Bachop created a try for Alex Fidow after a busy build-up, but Otago soon kicked into the lead with two Fletcher Smith penalties.
In the 26th minute Ben Lam crossed untouched following a strong lineout drive, but the visitors went to the halftime sheds 11-10 ahead when halfback Jonathan Ruru crossed the chalk.
Smith punished Wellington with two further penalties, but the Lions sporadic brilliance was eventually telling. The winning penalty was kicked by Garden-Bachop in the 74th minute after a dozen phases of varied and dynamic attack.
Umaga-Jensen was a handful all afternoon and made the big run which led to Wellington’s final try. Will Mangos was industrious. Sitiveni Paongo steadied a shaky scrum. Garden-Bachop had some nice touches, but lacked the tactical authority of previous weeks and Ben Lam took his chances nicely but should have prevented the Koroi try by showing greater urgency.
This was Wellington’s seventh win in eight matches, the bonus point victory carrying them to 37 points -16 clear of second placed Otago and Manawatu on 21.
The Lions have qualified top for the Championship semi-finals with two matches to come.
Wellington have now scored 44 tries, the second most to Canterbury’s 49. Jackson Garden-Bachop is now third on the points scorer’s list with 83 points. Alex Fidow are two of 10 players with six tries.
Wellington won back the Mike Gibson Memorial Trophy, first played for in 1989 after the former Otago and Wellington midfielder who died of cancer aged 27.
The two unions have now met 40 times during the NPC-era with Wellington winning 22 times, Otago 16, and two draws (in 1993 and 2004). Wellington has now scored 118 tries to the southern men’s 91 in NPC clashes.
Overall going back to that first 1883 meeting the ledger stands at 66 wins for Wellington, 41 for Otago, and nine draws.
3. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
2. Will Mangos
1. Sitiveni Paongo
Points after seven matches:
10. Asafo Aumua
6. Jackson Garden-Bachop
6. Wes Goosen
5. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
5. Du'Plessis Kirifi
4. Alex Fidow
3. Jeff To'omaga-Allen
3. Sam Lousi
2. Julian Savea
2. Will Mangos
1. Tolu Fahamokioa
1. Sitiveni Paongo
Wellington: 1.Tolu Fahamokioa, 2.Leni Apisai, 3.Alex Fidow, 4.Chris Middleton, 5.Will Mangos, 6.Mateaki Kafatolu, 7.Du Plessis Kirifi, 8.Galu Taufale, 9.Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, 10.Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11.Ben Lam, 12.Regan Verney, 13.Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 14.Julian Savea, 15.Trent Renata. Substitutes: 16.Asafo Aumua, 17.Sitiveni Paongo, 18.Joe Apikotoa, 19.Alex Dalzell, 20.Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21.Sheridan Rangihuna, 22.Billy Proctor, 23.Losi Filipo.
Otago: 1.Craig Millar, 2.Sekonaia Pole, 3.Hisa Sasagi, 4.Blair Tweed, 5.Josh Dickson, 6.Josh Furno, 7.Adam Knight, 8.Mika Mafi, 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Josh Ioane, 11.Jona Nareki, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Patelesio Tomkinson, 14.Latu Vaeno, 15.Fletcher Smith. Substitutes: 16.Ricky Jackson, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Donald Brighouse, 19.Joketani Koroi, 20.Slade McDowall, 21.Josh Renton, 22.Hayden Parker, 23.Vilimoni Koroi.
Wellington travel to Invercargill to tackle last placed Southland on Saturday. Otago will look to reverse a three-game skid when they host Bay of Plenty on the same day