Crucial win sees Aucks step towards safety net
AUCKLAND have taken a big step towards avoiding relegation, climbing off the bottom of the Premiership table with a dominant display over Bay of Plenty.
Auckland ran in four tries to secure a crucial 38-19 bonus-point victory yesterday at Eden Park, moving to 17 points on the table to leapfrog Counties-Manukau and Waikato in the standings with two games remaining.
Making his first start of the season, New Zealand sevens flyer Joe Ravouvou bagged a double in the opening 10 minutes with Vince Aso and Melani Nanai adding tries in the second half.
But the win, only their third of the season, was built on a tremendous defensive display in the first half as Bay of Plenty enjoyed 78 percent territory, ending a difficult week on a positive note after coach Nick White announced he would be stepping down at the end of the season.
Bay of Plenty arrived in Auckland knowing a win could have lifted them as high as second in the Championship. Despite making more than 50 less tackles than their opposition, they struggled to capitalise on their opportunities until it was far too late and remain outside the top four.
White had All Blacks coaching great Sir Graham Henry on hand at training this week and his magic clearly rubbed off on the players as they came out firing.
Although, it certainly helps when Ravouvou turned up in the mood he did. After Jono Hickey MITRE 10 CUP opened the scoring with a penalty, the big Fijian bagged a brace in five minutes as he cut the Bay of Plenty defence to shreds.
The first try, a length of the field effort where he beat two defenders to score next to the posts, was set up by a strong charge from loose forward Taleni Seu before a superb offload from Melani Nanai put him away for the second.
Leading 17-0, Auckland offered the Steamers a way back into the contest when prop Marcel Renata was sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements midway through the first half.
But the home team showed great resilience on their tryline to repel the visitors. Auckland actually outscored the visitors 3-0 while Renata was off the field.
They were lucky not to have another player sent to the bin – and concede a penalty try – when halfback Richard Judd had the ball knocked out of his hands at a ruck on Auckland’s line.
The Steamers had more reason to consider themselves unlucky when Judd had a try overturned by the TMO for a knock-on.
But credit had to go to Auckland’s defence, which never stopped turning up as the hosts led 23-0 at halftime.
If Bay of Plenty were going to pull off an unlikely comeback they had to score first after the break. But when it’s not your day, it’s not your day. Just three minutes in, they were on the receiving end of another questionable call as Vince Aso crossed off what appeared to be a clear forward pass from Seu.
The missed call overshadowed what was a brilliant run from Seu, who terrorised Bay of Plenty all day and was among Auckland’s best.
Aso then turned provider as he burst through midfield to set up Nanai for the bonus-point try.
The defence eventually broke in the 66th minute when Henry Stowers barged over and Auckland would have been disappointed to concede two more late tries.
Bay of Plenty’s Mike Delany is scragged by the Auckland defence at Eden Park yesterday.