Auckland cleverly mixed up their game to see off a dogged Waikato side in their national rugby championship derby at Eden Park today.
In a match played in deteriorating conditions with rain and high winds, Auckland showed some typical back-line class but also brought some steel up front to claim a 32-22 bonus point victory.
And that steel was needed, particularly in the final quarter when Waikato, with their relentless forward work, pressured Auckland as they looked for a comeback victory.
But it wasn't to be and the result left Auckland in touch with premiership leaders Wellington and Taranaki. Waikato languish at the wrong end of the table with just one win and two consecutive losses.
Auckland fullback Charles Piutau had a strong game with his kick-returns a feature. And wing George Moala also made ground whenever he got the ball.
Gareth Anscombe gave an accomplished display at first-five with his option-taking central to the victory.
But it’s not all flash and dash in the blue and whites.
They’re developing an industrious tight five with newcomers Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Sean Brookman contributing mightily in some stand-out work at the rucks and mauls.
Waikato held an edge in the scrums though, contributing to two tries to No 8 and skipper Alex Bradley. But they didn’t make enough of their possession and showed a reluctance to get the ball thrugh their backline.
Waikato face a quick turnaround, hosting Bay of Plenty on Tuesday night in Hamilton. Bay of Plenty then have to back up to play Auckland in Rotorua on Friday night.
Auckland will be looking for more of the same.
They got the start they wanted yesterday with the wind behind them. Piutau muscled his way over for the opening try in the eighth minute to finish off Auckland’s first real attack.
Gareth Anscombe converted and added a close range penalty soon after.
Waikato used their traditional strength to open their account with flanker Zak Hohneck awarded a try from a maul right on the line.
Piutau ignited a long range attack that eventually saw centre Malakai Fekitoa slide over in the corner with the courtesy of a decent overlap.
The Mooloos showed their forward strength again when they won a tighthead in the shadow of the Auckland posts and Bradley bashed his way over.
With the half-time hooter sounded Anscombe kicked a 40m penalty to stretch Auckland out to an 18-12 lead.
Waikato made no secret of their second half tactics, getting their kicking game going immediately, looking for territory and pressure.
Both came early with Auckland halfback Alby Mathewson conceding a penalty as he got isolated. Trent Renata stepped up to land the goal and close the gap.
Auckland made some adjustments of their own with the into-the-wind assignment, tightening their approach and there was quick reward with replacement loose forward Joe Edwards being driven over for a crucial try.
And they were back at the right immediately after the restart with wing George Moala showing his finishing skills, beating three defenders as he danced down the touchline to score in the corner, nailing the bonus point and with Anscombe’s radar boot continuing to be on target, the score leapt out to 32-15.
Waikato got back to the right end of the field to dominate the next phase. They had the video ref deny replacement prop Ted Tauro’as lunge at the line. But from the resulting scrum Bradley crashed over for his second try.
Auckland 32 (Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Joe Edwards, George Moala tries; Gareth Anscombe 3 con, 2 pen) Waikato 22 (Zak Hohneck, Alex Bradley 2 tries; Trent Renata 2 con, pen). HT: 18-12
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