Tight win keeps Wellington afloat
Friday, August 26, 2011 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
The young No.10 was a perfect seven from seven on the night for 19 points, including four long-range penalties in the second half, to guide his side to four vital competition points.
They now sit on 25 points, five ahead of Southland who are now Ranfurly Shield-less and also resigned to spending 2012 in the championship division as even if they catch Wellington on points, a win to the Lions over the Stags would see them finish higher.
Harbour earned a pair of bonus points for losing within seven points and scoring four tries, to Wellington's two, but were punished by Sopoaga for their second half discipline.
It was always going to be an open and free-flowing game between the Lions, with the second-worst defence in the premiership, and Harbour who are dead last in terms of points conceded and on the championship table.
They may have had less to play for but Harbour came flying out of the blocks and fully deserved their halftime advantage.
Outstanding halfback Chris Smylie was at the centre of everything good the home side did in the first half, scoring the opening try, setting up another and losing a front tooth in the process of doing so.
He was joined in the scorers column by left wing David Raikuna, who dotted down once either side of halftime, and hooker James Parsons who grabbed a rare try off an brilliant individual run and flick pass down the short side by Smylie.
Wellington's only first-half try came through flanker Faifili Levave, courtesy of a smart training ground move that saw dummy runners fool the defence and allow Levave a clear run to the line from 22m out.
The Lions opted to turn down penalty shots in the first half and it seemed clear that an edict to take any points on offer in the second 40 was given in the sheds by coach Andre Bell.
It required Harbour to give them the opportunity to do so and they did time and time again, with Sopoaga steady as a rock despite the pressures his side came into the game carrying.
There was an also the inevitable try to wing Hosea Gear, who took almost an hour to do so but it wasn't for a lack of trying.
Having handled his absence from the All Blacks' World Cup squad with fine grace during the week, Gear got his hands dirty on return to his province and fully deserved a five-pointer when freed down the left wing by a powerful Charlie Ngatai bust.
Harbour still carried a lead with less than 10 minutes to go but again infringed in their own half and Sopoaga calmly stepped up from 40m out in front to give his side an advantage that was never headed.
There are no repercussions for finishing last in the second-tier division, which Harbour are now confirmed to do, but it is nonetheless another ego blow to a side that have been on the wane in recent years.
One of the only bright points would be a strong first half by All Black lock Anthony Boric, who said his previously injured toe came through the first half well on his return to the field ahead of the World Cup.
Wellington 29 (F.Levave, H.Gear tries; L.Sopoaga 2con, 5pen) North Harbour 28 (D.Raikuna 2, C.Smylie, J.Parson tries; B.Botica con, 2 pens) HT: 10-23
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