Auckland lucky to win in Hawke's Bay

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Local hero and first five-eighths Ihaia West, a match winner on so many occasions for the side, had an 81st minute penalty attempt and while the home crowd roared as it headed goalwards, the southerly wind had the final say as the ball drifted across the front of the posts.

Hawke's Bay fought all the way and would not have been undeserving winners while Auckland could look at a performance that was below expectations and which is below where they need to be heading into the second half of the competition. It was 70 minutes before Auckland finally claimed the lead, but even then there was an exchange of penalty goals before Auckland captain Simon Hickey, who had landed five penalty goals, missed his first with two minutes of the game left.

Hawke's Bay didn't look like a side that was struggling to find their rugby mojo. They put the pressure on Auckland from the outset and it was West who demonstrated that with a scything early run to take play into the Auckland 22m from where a penalty was won and which he goaled.

Then in the 13th minute as Auckland halfback Jono Hickey attempted to clear from a scrum out from his own line, West took the chance to charge down the kick, and had enough time to look around, locate the ball and score the try.

Auckland struggled for fluidity in their play and had few try-scoring chances and Hawke's Bay thought they had scored 34 minutes into the half when fullback Ryan Tongia got over the line, but television evidence was clear that centre Jonah Lowe had his foot on the touchline and the try was over-ruled.

However, Auckland couldn't secure the ball at the lineout and Hawke's Bay mounted a powerful surge at the line with hooker Ash Dixon and lock Mark Abbott looked like they had taken personal umbrage the try was ruled out. They secured a penalty and that was enough for West to give his side an 11-3 lead at the break.

Towards the end signs of Auckland's potency was seen with two strong breaks by centre Rieko Ioane and with flanker Akira Ioane also strong with the ball in hand.

Hickey narrowed the margin with two penalty goals early in the second half but a storming sideline burst by Abbott was only stopped by a goal-line tackle made by Akira Ioane. However, from the second of two five-metre scrums the ball was moved to the backs and while Tongia went close to getting through Rieko Ioane stopped him.

But from the ruck it was finally Abbott who drove to the line to claim the try.

Auckland ran the ball back at the home team and when Akira Ioane threw to the second line of attackers second five-eighths Vince Aso ran onto the ball at speed and punched a gap before feeding a flying replacement hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate who out-stripped the defence to score Auckland's first.

After West landed another penalty goal, Auckland employed a similar play but this time it was replacement halfback Leon Fukofuka who took the ball and then fed Aso along the sideline for Auckland to gain the lead for the first time 70 minutes into the game

Scorers: Hawke's Bay 24 (Ihaia West, Mark Abbott tries; West con 4 pen) Auckland 25 (Greg Pleasants-Tate, Vince Aso tries; Simon Hickey 5 pen). HT: 11-3