Auckland bench comes through in clutch

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Saturday, October 27, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

The likes of Taleni Seu, Hoskins Sotutu, Mike Sosene, Leon Fukofuka, and Caleb Clarke all contributed mightily in the critical periods towards the end of regulation time and then the second of the two extra time blocks. There were glimpses of X-factor but it was mostly about smart, accurate play when it was most needed.


Canterbury had led by margins of 17, 14 and 13 in the first 57 minutes as the unerring boot of Brett Cameron kept the visitors moving forward.

The latter mentioned Auckland trio scored vital tries as Auckland finished the stronger of the two sides in a remarkable game in which the home team outscored the visitors six tries to three but only ever took the lead in the 92nd minute when Fukofuka crossed. The home crowd of more than 20,000 had to also be a factor late in the piece when legs were tired.

While there were special heroes among the Auckland starters, such as second five TJ Faiane, whose quick thinking allowed Tumua Manu to score the opening try, flanker Evan Olmstead, industrious as ever, and No 8 Akira Ioane, who was punishing with and without the ball and scored a vital try bursting off a scrum, head coach Alama Ieremia was again happy with his high numbers.

“They’ve been doing it all year, that self-belief in the squad system, not just the 23 here, but we’ve got up to 40 players, guys from the Bs and the Colts who have been promoted. I do feel for Daniel Kirkpatrick, who didn’t get on today. He’s been a stalwart for us and a good leader for us strategically. Leon controlled the tempo of the game when he came on with his passing. There are a lot of young players on the bench and I hope they learn from this and move forward,” says Ieremia.
Seu was making just his second appearance for Auckland in 2018 after returning from a long-term back injury. He made a powerful impact with his tackling, carrying and offloading in a critical period of the final.

“It was pretty unreal being available for the semis and final and to add to what the boys have done all season,” says the 24-year-old.

“Originally my goal was just to make it back for Super Rugby, but the rehab came along pretty good, so I asked the Chiefs if I was able to come back earlier.

“I guess it was good for me to come off the bench because we had some experience and leadership there. At halftime I told them that the boys were pretty flat so when they came on they needed to pick them up. That’s what the boys off the bench did. That culture, brotherhood and bond we had helped us get through the last few minutes.

“It’s a shame the season is done. I just want to keep playing after six months off.”

Seu is contracted to the Chiefs for 2019 but is as yet unsigned for the next Mitre 10 Cup.

Canterbury was aware that, at 40-33, it needed to score twice to take the game as any tiebreaker in extra time would go in Auckland’s favour due to its superior tryscoring rate.

Sir Graham Henry now has six provincial titles with Auckland to his name, four as head coach from 1993-96, one as technical advisor in 2002, and now as assistant coach with the defence portfolio.

But the victory is certainly a boon for the union itself after two fallow years in 2016-17, only avoiding relegation by one point in 2017.