Wellington will play North Harbour for third at the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under-19 tournament after losing Canterbury in the semifinals of the Graham Mourie Cup in Taupo on Wednesday.
An early second-half blitz earned Canterbury a resounding 39-22 victory after the scores were tied 15-15 at halftime.
However, 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the second-spell firmly turned the pendulum Canterbury’s way.
In an attempt to bolster a creaky scrum, Wellington replaced loosehead prop Laurence Lim at halftime with George Jacobs.
Initially the swap appeared to be a masterstroke with Wellington winning a tighthead, although Canterbury responded angrily achieving a penalty from the Wellington feed.
Canterbury kicked for a lineout and following clean possession scored a try when second-five Dallas McLeod pushed through the midfield and set up wing Burns Mills.
McLeod repeatedly fractured the Wellington defence and in the 42nd minute another glaring hole appeared allowing Canterbury to break and Connor McManus to finish. Fergus Burke’s conversion made it 29-15.
At this stage Canterbury was rampant and a breakdown penalty, just outside the 22, allowed Burke to expand the lead further.
McLeod would impose himself from the outset, opening Canterbury’s account after two minutes following a Coel Kerr bust.
Canterbury fumbled the restart and Caleb Delaney snaffled and surged to the Canterbury 22, supplying Taine Plumtree who strode down the wing to complete the score. Callum Harkin converted from the side-line and it was 7-7.
A Burke penalty pushed Canterbury 10-7 ahead, before another Plumtree break went unrewarded.
After 21 minutes McLeod barged aside Kienan Higgins to secure his double, but the latter atoned for his blemish four minutes later by putting Tai Neil in space which sparked a movement finished by opposite wing Reuben Va’a.
Ironically Wellington levelled proceeding by punishing a Canterbury scrum infringement. Harkin was on target from 30-meters with the last kick of the half.
Wellington was then outplayed in the last 35 minutes. Canterbury No 8 Matthew Legota was an imposing figure and his thrust supplied a try for the accomplished Burke who amassed 19 points.
Wellington attitude couldn’t be faulted and Neli had the final say when Harkin chipped precisely for the Billy Goats speedster to rundown.
Plumtree along with No 8 Shamus Langton and Naitoa Ah Kuoi were the best for Wellington on a day when they had to concede the better side won.
The play-off for third will be held at 1.40pm on Sunday.