|Semi-Fnal Review: Lions Fall Short in Semi-Final Against Auckland|
The Ricoh Wellington Lions fell short at the semi-final stage of the 2012 ITM Cup, losing 22-33 to Auckland in their home playoff match at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.
In a tensely fought semi-final, Auckland won the match late in the contest, two tries in quick succession taking the game out of Wellington's reach.
The semi-final remained on tenderhooks right up to the last 10 minutes when the Lions held a 22-21 lead and were pressing the visitors for further opportunities.
Instead, Auckland centre Malakai Fekitoa ran on to a pass from a quick tap penalty taken by halfback Alby Mathewson at the base of a scrum and scored his second try to put them ahead 26-22.
Auckland halfback Mathewson then darted through Wellington's defence in broken play and set up the match winner scored by second five-eighth Hadleigh Parkes, which first five-eighth Gareth Anscombe converted to put the semi-final out of reach for Wellington.
Earlier, the Lions had scored their second try of the second half to take a 22-14 lead into the fourth quarter of play.
A moment of brilliance led to the Lions breaking open Auckland's line and No. 8 Ardie Savea scoring to give them a well-deserved lead.
Savea's seventh try of the season came off a sensational run by second five-eighth Shaun Treeby from 55 metres out. Treeby burst on to a short pass from first five-eighth Tim Bateman, sprinted past halfway, cut back on his inside and outstripped the cover defence to feed Savea in support.
However Auckland responded by intercepting a Wellington pass in front of their own try line and centre Malakai Fekitoa crossed for his first try of two late tries and Anscombe converted to cut the Lions' lead to just a point.
Earlier, the Lions had broken open a tight opening half moments before the turnaround with the first try of the match to blindside flanker Ross Filipo.
After an arm-wrestle in the opening 35 minutes, Filipo finished off a terrific counterattack up the short side started deep within his own half.
Centre Alapati Leiua flicked a nice ball on to hooker Dane Coles who burst away, found halfback Frae Wilson in support, who in turn fed Filipo in the clear. This try cut Auckland's then 9-3 lead to just a point at the halftime turnaround.
The Lions made a strong start to the second half, making a dangerous raid with ball in hand up into Auckland's 22, Filipo running strongly again and skipper and lock Jeremy Thrush feeding tighthead prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen who carried the move on up towards the try line.
From the next breakdown, the Lions won a penalty and kicked into the corner for a lineout. This paid dividends when lock Mark Reddish won the ball in the air and ploughed over the chalk himself to score their second try.
Woodward's conversion put them ahead 15-9.
Auckland charged down a kick in general play, leading to a five-metre scrum in the corner. Despite clearly putting a foot into touch, loosehead prop Pauliasi Manu bullocked over and scored their first try. This cut the Lions' lead to 15-14.
Savea scored his converted try to give the Lions an eight-point buffer, but Auckland hit back with Fekitoa's double and one to Parkes to seal the win and ensure their place in next week's ITM Cup final in Christchurch against defending champions Canterbury.
Despite defeat in the semi-final, the Lions can reflect on another successful ITM Cup season, in which they won eight games from 11 and five of six games played at home. Several players made their Lions debuts in 2012, and together they scored 345 points and 44 tries and played plenty of exciting rugby in doing so.
Ricoh Wellington Lions 22 (Ross Filipo, Mark Reddish, Ardie Savea, tries; Jason Woodward pen, 2 con) lost to Auckland 33 (Pauliasi Manu, Malakai Fekitoa 2, Hadleigh Parkes tries; Gareth Anscombe 3 pen, 2 cons). HT: 9-8 Auckland
The scoring action by minute:
8th: Gareth Anscombe penalty. Auckland 3-0
23rd: Jason Woodward penalty. Lions 3-3
25th: Gareth Anscombe penalty. Auckland 6-3
29th: Gareth Anscombe penalty. Auckland 9-3
38th: Ross Filipo try. Auckland 9-8
43rd: Mark Reddish try. Lions 13-9
44th: Jason Woodward conversion. Lions 15-9
49th: Pauliasi Manu try. Lions 15-14
55th: Ardie Savea try. Lions 20-14
56th: Jason Woodward conversion. Lions 22-14
58th: Makakai Fekitoa try. Lions 22-19
59th: Gareth Anscombe conversion. Lions 22-21
69th: Malakai Fekitoa try. Auckland 26-22
74th: Haleigh Parkes try. Auckland 31-22
75th: Gareth Anscombe conversion. Auckland 33-22
The Ricoh Wellington Lions team was:
1. Reggie Goodes
2. Dane Coles Replaced by Motu Matu'u, 76th minute
3. Jeff Toomaga-Allen
4. Jeremy Thrush (c)
5. Mark Reddish Replaced by Lua Lokotui, 73rd minute
6. Ross Filipo Replaced by Genesis Mamea, 73rd minute
7. Scott Fuglistaller
8. Ardie Savea
9. Frae Wilson Replaced by Kayne Hammington, 76th minute
10.Tim Bateman Replaced by Lima Sopoaga, 76th minute
13. Alapati Leiua
14. Matt Proctor Replaced by Ambrose Curtis, 76th minute
15. Charlie Ngatai
16. Motu Matu'u
17. Eric Sione
18. Lua Lokotui
19. Genesis Mamea
20. Kayne Hammington
21. Lima Sopoaga
22. Ambrose Curtis