Auckland impress with another win
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.