Mitre 10 Cup: Wellington seal playoff spot with Dane Coles cameo

Wellington have sealed their place in the Mitre 10 Cup playoffs, bullying Taranaki 34-10 in their final outing of the regular season.

The result also consigns their opponents to relegation from the premiership division for the 2019 season.

But in the bigger picture, the return of All Blacks hooker Dane Coles from long-term injury may prove even more significant that the national competition implications.

Coles has rarely been sighted over the past two years through a variety of injuries, including concussion. He tore knee ligaments in the All Blacks' victory over France last November and has spent most of this season running water for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby.

He entered this contest in the 64th minute, replacing Asafo Aumua, and made an immediate impact, showing good speed and determination to secure loose ball a few metres from the goal-line and providing the ball for Sitiveni Paongo to score.

By then, the Lions had already achieved their goal - a bonus-point win - to edge clear of North Harbour for the fourth and final premiership semi-final spot.

Taranaki hung tough for most of the first half and actually 10-7 led after 37 minutes, before indiscipline on their own line opened the floodgates.

After earning a penalty, the home side retaliated to some niggle and saw the penalty reversed. From that possession, Wellington number eight Teariki Ben-Nicholas crossed from close range for a 12-10 half-time lead.

After the break, centre Matt Proctor and wing Malo Tuitama secured the much-needed bonus point, before Coles' cameo appearance.

Wellington will now face either Tasman or Auckland - whoever emerges on top of the table on Sunday - in a road semi-final.

Wellington 34 (Vaea Fifita, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Malo Tuitama, Matt Proctor & Sitiveni Paonga tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop two conversions & penalty, Trent Renata conversion) Taranaki 10 (Warwick Lahmert try; Beaudein Waaka conversion & penalty)