Auck­land im­press with an­other win

The Southland Times - - Sport -

Auck­land are the real deal in the Mitre 10 Cup pre­mier­ship sec­tion.

Huge un­der­achiev­ers in re­cent years, Auck­land showed their ti­tle cre­den­tials with a 34-29 win over Canterbury in Christchurch yes­ter­day, their first in the Gar­den City since 2007.

Vic­tory means Auck­land are five from five in 2018 un­der firstyear head coach Alama Ieremia. They sit top of the pre­mier­ship stand­ings and if they con­tinue in this man­ner look a strong pos­si­bil­ity for a home semi­fi­nal.

Cap­tain TJ Fa­iane bagged three tries, in­clud­ing Auck­land’s open­ing two in the first nine min­utes as they shot out to a quick 12-0 lead.

Hav­ing been starved of the ball in the first half, Canterbury would have been con­tent to go into half­time down 22-15 af­ter a late try to tight­head prop Sef Fa’agase.

Auck­land sealed the re­sult with 10 min­utes left when cen­tre Tu­mua Manu gob­bled up an in­ter­cept from Canterbury’s Phil Burleigh and sprinted away to score.

Canterbury added two tries in the clos­ing stages to se­cure two bonus points for four tries and los­ing within seven which could prove piv­otal in the fi­nal washup.

In just over a week, Waikato have trans­formed from a team in the de­spairs of a team-record 10-match los­ing streak, to Ran­furly Shield hold­ers and cham­pi­onship fron­trun­ners.

The team which has rat­tled off three con­sec­u­tive wins, in­clud­ing their im­pres­sive 42-22 Shield de­fence against Hawke’s Bay last Thurs­day, is any­thing but the one which started the sea­son 0-3.

Waikato are play­ing some of the best footy in the com­pe­ti­tion, pre­mier­ship teams in­cluded, and are shap­ing as the favourites to gain pro­mo­tion back to the top tier.

They don’t have to worry about de­fend­ing the Log o’ Wood the com­ing week, with only two more de­fences – against South­land and Otago – be­tween them and lock­ing it up over sum­mer.

It’s a stark con­trast to what’s go­ing on with Taranaki, the team they raided the Shield from.

The am­ber-and-blacks slumped to a third con­sec­u­tive loss, oblit­er­ated 53-17 by fel­low pre­mier­ship team Tas­man on Fri­day night.

Tas­man, who were com­ing off a heavy loss to Auck­land, were sim­ply ruth­less as they kept the heat on Canterbury, Auck­land and Welling­ton at the sharp end of the pre­mier­ship.

In a round of high-scor­ing matches, Welling­ton matched Tas­man’s ef­fort by putting 53 points on Coun­ties Manukau in Pukekohe. Vaea Fi­fita and James O’Reilly both scored braces.

North­land also went on a scor­ing frenzy, trounc­ing Manawatu¯ 49-19 on the back of a 17-point haul from Aussie first-five Jack De­breczeni.

The Tur­bos have dropped four games on the trot and only sit above the be­lea­guered South­land Stags, who have lost 16 straight and are star­ing down the bar­rel of a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win­less sea­son.

Wing Mitchell Scott scored a hat-trick as Otago flogged the Stags 43-24 in In­ver­cargill on Satur­day, and it would have been uglier had the home side not scored a cou­ple of con­so­la­tion tries. North Har­bour climbed up to fifth in the pre­mier­ship, gain­ing a vi­tal 32-20 home vic­tory over Bay of Plenty at Al­bany, their third win from six games.

The win gives Har­bour some breath­ing space in the bat­tle to avoid rel­e­ga­tion to the cham­pi­onship. They are on 14 points, four clear of Taranaki, who oc­cupy bot­tom spot in the pre­mier­ship.

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