The Wellington Lions ended their NPC campaign in the winner's circle, with a hard fought 29-28 victory over North Harbour at Albany on Friday.
The result saw the Lions secure their place in the Premiership for next season.
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 earlier in the season means the Lions finish higher.
Composure in the second half and the pinpoint boot of flyhalf Lima Sopoaga were key facets in the win.
The Lions came back from a three-tries-to-one, 16-23 half-time deficit to score 16 unanswered points in the third quarter of play, before retaking the lead once more with about 10 minutes remaining after a fourth North Harbour try.
They then held off a frantic period of North Harbour attacking play in front of their tryline late in the match.
Sopoaga played a leading hand for the Lions, kicking seven attempts from seven including four second half penalties.
His last penalty of the match, from 45 metres out in the 71st minute, put the Lions back in front after North Harbour left wing David Raikuna had scored a try off a forward pass just moments before.
Now holding a one-point advantage, the Lions held firm to the end and fended off a 20-phase raid at the chalk by the home side.
The win marked the 73rd and final game in Lions colours for long-serving prop Neemia Tialata, who was part of a well performing Wellington pack that had the measure of its North Harbour opposites in the set-piece exchanges.
Missed tackles at crucial times and a succession of handling errors by the Lions were chief reasons for them being behind by 13 points at half-time.
For North Harbour:
Tries: Raikuna 2, Smylie, Parsons
Pens: Botica 2
For Wellington Lions:
Tries: Levave, Gear
Cons: Sopoaga 2
Pens: Sopoaga 5
North Harbour: 15 Willie Walker, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Brendan Watt, 11 David Raikuna, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Chris Smylie (captain), 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Scott Uren, 6 Solomon King, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 James Parsons, 1 James Afoa.
Replacements: 16 Manu Leiataua, 17 Alex Woonton, 18 James King, 19 Brett Wilson, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Pita Ahki, 22 Codey Rei, 23 Taione Vea.
Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Alipate Leiua, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Jeremy Thrush (captain), 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reg Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Joe Latta, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Michael Lealava'a, 22 Steve Honey, 23 Arden David-Perrot.
Referee: Shane McDermott
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