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ITM Cup: Wellington Lions 35 - 27 North Harbour
Lions struggle to put away Harbour
August 28, 2013
Date/Time: Aug 28, 2013, 19:35 local, 07:35 GMT
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Wellington 35 - 27 North Harbour
Half-time: 21 - 14
Tries: Ngatai 2, Perenara, Sopoaga
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 3
Tries: Li, Saili, Tuitavake
Cons: Rei 3
Pens: Rei 2
Wellington's Charlie Ngatai breaks away for a try against North Harbour, Wellington Lions v North Harbour, ITM Cup, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, August 28, 2013
Charlie Ngatai produced a strong performance in the Lions' midfield
© Getty Images
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Wellington Lions racked up their third successive victory to maintain their pace atop the ITM Cup Premiership standings, but only after they had squandered 21-0 and 32-17 margins.

North Harbour, who went to Westpac Stadium in Wellington bottom of the Championship standings after two losses from as many games, were on the back foot right from the first whistle with Wellington scrum-half TJ Perenara opening the scoring after barely three minutes. Lima Sopoaga and Charlie Ngatai each then scored well-worked tries, and Wellington looked set to run away with the game as they led 21-0 after 26 minutes.

But the Lions were guilty of conceding too many turnovers, their lineout was erratic, their handling often sloppy, and poor defence cost them dearly in the five minutes before half-time. Francis Saili, back from All Blacks duty, reignited Harbour's hopes with a scything run and a brilliant off-load for replacement second five-eighth Nafi Tuitavake to score. Massey High School teenager Tevita Li then exposed the Wellington defence with impressive pace and a swerving sidestep to cross for a converted try on the siren that reduced Wellington's lead to 21-14 at the break.

Tevita Li scored after displaying a devastating change of pace © Getty Images
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Wellington maintained the margin through an exchange of penalties after the restart before Ngatai claimed his the bonus-point try, his second of the game, after a decisive break and offload from Victor Vito as the hour mark ticked over. Wellington should have had no trouble closing out the match at 32-17 with 14 minutes remaining, but the boot of Codey Rei, and the brilliance of Saili in crossing for Harbour's third try, reduced the margin to five points with seven minutes remaining.

Replacement Wellington prop Eric Sione was sin-binned for the final 10 minutes, leaving the Lions having to work until Sopoaga kicked a penalty goal on the siren to round out the win. Sopoaga's goal was a cruel blow for Harbour as it denied them a bonus point that may prove crucial as they aim to avoid the wooden spoon for the second successive year.

North Harbour next play Northland in Albany on Saturday, when the Lions host Manawatu Turbos.

© AAP with Sportal
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