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Wellington back in winner's circle

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Thursday, August 18, 2011    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

Both teams are in a battle to avoid relegation from the championship and the result was a big one for Wellington who moved ahead of the Stags and off the foot of the ladder.

Sopoaga's kicking proved to be the difference as Southland outscored Wellington by four tries to three but their goal-kickers James Wilson and Robbie Robinson had a night to forget in the wind and rain. Sopoaga kicked six from seven to add 15 very valuable points for the home side.

Southland's lineout problems continued too, particularly in the first-half, and their scrum was under enormous pressure too, although Wellington could not always make that advantage count.

Wellington led 13-10 at half-time despite the Stags outscoring them two tries to one as Apoua Stewart's five-pointer was cancelled out by tries for Josh Bekhuis and Matt Saunders.

Saunders completed his double early in the second half, then Tony Koonwaiyou got the visitors a bonus point before Shields's brace got the Lions home.

It took 15 minutes before the first points were even scored, despite Wellington getting themselves close to the Southland line on at least two occasions.

They had a series of scrums five metres out but failed to make their dominance pay when TJ Perenara knocked on at the base of the scrum.

After another strong scrum from a similar position Wellington then lost the ball due to some excellent Southland counter-rucking which allowed James Wilson to clear the ball almost to halfway.

Lima Sopoaga eventually slotted a penalty when another promising Wellington attack through Scott Fuglistaller and Brad Shields was stopped illegally by the Stags.

And the Lions pivot doubled his side's lead with a second penalty from long range three minutes later.

But Southland replied in the best way possible through Bekhuis. Alapati Leiua and Apoua Stewart failed to gather an up and under into the 22 and Elliot Dixon gathered the loose ball. He was stopped short, then Kade Poki had a run to the line before the ball was spun to the Stags lock who forced his way over. James Wilson couldn't add the conversion.

Wellington extended their lead with a superb length-of-the-field try on 30 minutes that was finished off by Stewart.

Julian Savea collected Sopoaga's 22 drop-out and beat several defenders before eventually being hauled down. Shields continued the move with another strong run before offloading to Jeremy Thrush who was brought down just short of the line and Stewart picked up the ball and drove over. Sopoaga slotted the conversion.

But more miscommunication under the high ball from Wellington allowed the Stags right back in the game. This time TJ Perenara failed to gather the kick and it was an easy collect for Matt Saunders who ran in unopposed. However, Robbie Robinson had no better luck with the conversion and the visitors trailed 13-10 at the break.

Saunders wasted no time in notching his double when play restarted. This time it was good patience and continuity with ball in the hand that worked for the Stags as Scott Cowan put the second-five through the gap to score.

The visitors lead was short-lived though as Sopoaga continued his perfect record with the boot to slot his third penalty.

But the Stags bounced straight back with their bonus-point try as the simple draw and pass put replacement Tony Koonwaiyou over the corner and Robinson added the extras.

Wellington's scrum dominance finally reaped them some reward as Shields forced his way over in the 59th and 74th minutes to finally put the game beyond doubt.

Marty McKenzie's late penalty ensured the Stags got at least two points from the encounter which could prove vital in the coming weeks.

Scorers:

Wellington 30 (Apoua Stewart, Brad Shields 2 tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 3 pen)Southland 25 (Josh Bekhuis, Matt Saunders 2, Tony Koonwaiyou tries; Robbie Robinson con; Marty McKenzie pen). HT: 13-10