Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Wellington cruise in to final

Ambrose Curtis of Wellington is congratulated on his try by teammate Faifili Levave during the ITM Cup semi final match between Wellington and Counties Manukau. Photo / Getty Images
Ambrose Curtis of Wellington is congratulated on his try by teammate Faifili Levave during the ITM Cup semi final match between Wellington and Counties Manukau. Photo / Getty Images

Wellington will host next weekend's ITM Cup Premiership final after they beat Counties Manukau 41-5 in the capital tonight.

The Lions will be in search of their first national provincial title in 13 years next Saturday and the winner of tomorrow's (Sat) semifinal between Auckland and Canterbury in Christchurch will head to Wellington for the decider.

Wellington were hot favourites coming in to tonight's semifinal encounter and their dominant forwards laid the platform as Counties were barely able to get their hands on the ball.

Heavy gusts of wind made conditions tough for both sides and a brave 6993 people came through the turnstiles at Westpac Stadium to catch the action.

Scoring was sparse in the first half an hour but the Lions opened their account in the 12th minute when a loose ball from a ruck fell in to Victor Vito's hands.

The discarded All Black galloped off in to space and with one man to beat, he found Frae Wilson inside him who gleefully accepted the pass and dotted down for the game's first try.

The swirling wind played havoc with Lima Sopoaga's goalkicking and he missed the sideline conversion having also shanked an early penalty goal opportunity.

Sopoaga eventually got one between the sticks when he extended Wellington's advantage in the 25th minute with a penalty from close range.

Given the nature of the goalkicking challenge, Sopoaga passed up a kick-able penalty attempt in the 32nd minute as Wellington pressed for their second try.

It proved an inspired decision, as the field position eventually paid off and Alapati Leiua scored only minutes later when he found himself on the end of an overlap as Wellington took a 15-0 lead to the break.

The visitors had to start the second spell in strong fashion and they did just that when skipper Fritz Lee scored to put them on the board.

Wellington's wind hampered Baden Kerr's conversion attempt, which left the Lions with a 15-5 lead.

Such a scoreline didn't wash with the Lions though and Shaun Treeby restored order when he stole the ball in a tackle and scampered 40 metres to add another five points.

Sopoaga was appreciative of the handy position to the posts for his conversion attempt and at 22-5 with 30 minutes left the game looked done.

Dogged defence has been the hallmark of Wellington's campaign in 2013 and when Counties made a concerted effort to score another try in middle stages of the second spell, they were repelled time and again by the Lions.

With 19 minutes left Wellington coach Chris Boyd went to his bench, where he had the luxury of bringing on Super Rugby regular Faifili Levave and New Zealand sevens player Ambrose Curtis.

Levave's impact was instant as he finished off a sweeping move following an extended passage of play, which sealed the win for Wellington with 15 minutes to play.

When Curtis added another late score it simply rubbed salt in the wound of Tana Umaga's men, while Leiua's second with only a few minutes left was cause for the mercy rule to be suggested.

Toni Pulu pulled one try back for Counties in the dying stages that counted for little.

Two key points from tonight's ITM Cup Premiership semifinal

Too big, too strong:

Wellington's forward pack features an embarrassment of riches. Every member of the pack has Super Rugby experience and they were able to bring Hurricanes regular Faifili Levave off the bench. Powerful.

Is this finally it?

The last time Wellington won the national provincial championship was 2000. Facebook hadn't been invented and Twitter was another six years away. They can break that drought in next weekend's final.

Wellington 41 (Alapati Leiua 2, Frae Wilson, Shaun Treeby, Faifili Levave, Ambrose Curtis tries; Lima Sopoaga pen, 4 con)
Counties Manukau 10 (Fritz Lee, Toni Pulu tries)
Halftime: 15-0


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