It was also a personal success for the Welsh players on show. Dwayne Peel was as lively as he has been all season; Gavin Henson was comfortable alongside Brian O'Driscoll; Gethin Jenkins capped a near faultless individual performance with a first half try and Gareth Thomas, despite one missed tackle, will be relatively pleased with his try-scoring start after arriving late on tour.
The Lions might have been ahead after just forty-five seconds, but after pinching the ball from a ruck on the Wellington 22, Wilkinson pushed a drop goal attempt woefully wide. Henson then suffered the same fate when he attempted to edge the Lions in front, but it had been a promising opening for the tourists with Dwayne Peel and Henson very much to the fore. After seven minutes of hanging on, Wellington conceded a penalty thirty metres out and Wilkinson made amends for his earlier miss by converting with aplomb.
A crowd of 30,000 packed the Westpace Stadium hoping to see the midweek Lions suffer much in the same way as the Saturday side had against the Maori five days ago. On this occasion, however, there was never any chance of that. They dominated the set piece and showed far more urgency at the breakdown. Unfortunately, the careless nature of their handling, in particular, was proving costly once more as Thomas and Henson both spilt ball in the Wellington 22. Wilkinson pushed a penalty wide on fifteen minutes as the Lions turned the screw, but with Gethin Jenkins leading the forward effort from the front row, the Lions were rarely out of the Wellington half.
Spilt possession was once again their Achilles Heel on twenty-one minutes when Peel, Jenkins and Thomas all featured in a sweeping move before Martin Corry turned over the ball ten metres out. Admittedly, the rain and wind made conditions difficult, but there was no real excuse. Their poor ball retention had been a cause for concern against the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki and it was proving so once again. With ten days to go before the first Test, it needs some urgent work.
Wilkinson's second penalty on 23 minutes doubled the Lions lead, but when Neil Back used his hands at a ruck forty metres from his own line, Wellington outside-half Jimmy Gopperth halved it with ease. Ben Kay was the culprit when the Lions gave up their next gilt-edged opportunity. Jenkins, once again, drove hard into Wellington territory and after the Lions had gone left and then right, Corry took them to within a metre. Kay arrived on the scene and with the line at his mercy knocked on in trying to pick up and score.
Lewsey was the next to knock on; after a dashing break from Peel, but there was no chance of Jenkins repeating the dose after another typical break from Peel. The Lions won good ball from a line out just short of the Wellington 22 and after Peel had fed Corry, the England No.8 sent in Jenkins for a popular try that Wilkinson duly improved. Gopperth added a second penalty on the stroke of half time, but their challenge was built on a shaky foundation and when they conceded yet another penalty three minutes after the restart Wilkinson redressed the balance with his fourth successful kick of the night.
The Lions withstood some concerted pressure after a decisive break from Ma'a Nonu on 53 minutes, but having cleared their lines, courtesy of Wilkinson's boot, they set up camp in the Wellington half and might have increased their lead through the Englishman's trusty left peg. Sadly for the Lions, his 58th minute penalty was off-target.
The option of Henson kicking from inside centre in open play was proving ever more useful as the Lions battled against the elements. However, the Ospreys centre was replaced by countryman Stephen Jones in the 62nd minute with Jones going straight to outside half and Wilkinson moving to centre.
Carelessness was continuing to cost the Lions second half scoring chances and it became increasingly more frustrating for the likes of Peel and Jenkins who hardly put a foot wrong. With mistakes continuing to dominate, the game ran out of steam until a second Welshman, this time Thomas, broke, kicked ahead and followed up to score a try that Wilkinson once again converted.
British & Irish Lions
J Lewsey (S Horgan 68mins);
B O'Driscoll (capt)
J Wilkinson (S Jones 62mins)
Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand)
British & Irish Lions 23 Wellington 6
Penalties: Gopperth (2)
British & Irish Lions
Tries: Jenkins, Thomas
Conversions: Wilkinson (2)
Penalties: Wilkinson (3)