Wellington hung on to the Ranfurly Shield despite a disjointed, error-ridden performance, beating Otago 23-19 in an Air NZ Cup rugby match in Wellington tonight.
Marist St Pats first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili was Wellington's saviour after coming on to replace Daniel Kirkpatrick 50 minutes into their opening match of the new season.
Wellington coach Jamie Joseph had opted to start Kirkpatrick but the youngster's nerves got the better off him and Joseph was forced to pull him off.
Fili's authoritative play settled Wellington down in the final 30 minutes and his two conversions and a dropped goal with seven minutes to go sealed the win for his side.
Otago, seeking to regain the Shield they last won in 1957, led 11-3 at halftime and were the better side for most of the game.
Wellington looked out of sorts right from the kickoff.
Otago, who kicked off with the wind, played simple direct rugby, spreading the ball wide and finding gaps to punch through.
Wellington were pinned inside their own half and put under immense pressure when Kirkpatrick bungled three restarts to give Otago giftwrapped attacking opportunities.
Otago first five-eighth Chris Noakes scored all his side's points in the first half with two penalties and a try.
Wellington's only reply was a Kirkpatrick penalty.
Kirkpatrick knocked over a penalty early in the second half but it was cancelled out by another Noakes effort.
Wellington played with more urgency but were unable to assume control as they continued to dish up the penalties and drop the ball on attack.
The ship righted when a counter-attack led by Shaun Treeby saw Wellington break through, the sprightly centre off-loading a pass for replacement lock Daniel Ramsay to score between the posts for Fili to convert.
The shield holders finally gave a glimpse of their attacking firepower when centre Robert Fruean broke out and found winger Hosea Gear.
Gear galloped past opposing winger Karne Hesketh to dot down in the corner for Fili to knock another conversion over, followed by the dropped goal.
An all-out Otago push saw skipper Adam Thomson score an unconverted try in the corner in the final minute - not enough to take the Shield away.
Wellington skipper Jacob Ellison was a relieved man afterwards, admitting that his side had been trying to defend the Shield rather than win it.
"It was a tough match the whole way through," he told Sky Sport.
"We tried to play our game early, a nice wide game, but maybe there was just a few too many errors so we brought it back in a bit tighter, a bit more confrontation, and just tried to take our opportunities."
Thomson said it was a disappointing result.
"We knew if we did the little things well, we got a bit of dominance and try to limit the back play, we'd be in with a sniff.
"Unfortunately they got enough ball and they got wide, and a quality team like that, with the turnovers, they can strike and hurt you, and they did. Unfortunately we couldn't hold on."