Auckland leading the way
August 1, 2010
Auckland's Brent Ward celebrates a try on his return to action in New Zealand © Getty Images
Auckland top the ITM Cup standings after round one following a 36-14 Albany rout of rivals North Harbour on Sunday.
Auckland scored the last 36 points after a sluggish start to dominate the 'battle of the bridge' and claim a 26th defeat of Harbour in 33 meetings. They scored four tries to one, with two of them going to flanker Daniel Braid and fullback Brent Ward. The pair - along with centre Ben Atiga - made pre-season headlines by returning to their old province following playing stints overseas.
Braid and Ward scored either side of half-time to give the Aucklanders a handy advantage after they trailed 14-0 after the first half hour. Despite a strong start from their opponents the 15-time champions were able to snare a bonus point try in the 76th minute through replacement winger Dave Thomas.
Harbour didn't score after centre Luke McAlister landed his third penalty in the 23rd minute. McAlister's first was a 63m long-shot, followed by their only try to flanker Tom Chamberlain, who later saw yellow for repeat infringements.
Last season's beaten finalists, Wellington, also secured a winning start on Sunday, braving torrential rain to beat Tasman 20-11.
The final game of the opening round was spoiled by the rain, which grew heavier as the match wore on, but Wellington provided the game's high-point with scintillating solo try to reigning IRB Under-20 Player of the Year Julian Savea.
Fly-half Fa'atonu Fili had a treacherous day kicking for goal, landing two from seven, but Dane Coles popped up with a much-needed score on half an hour before fellow-Hurricanes tight-forward Jeremy Thrush jinked over for the second in a decisive moment on the stroke of half-time.
Tasman's sole try came from fullback Robbie Malneek after 10 minutes when winger Afeleki Pelenise was put outside an out-of-position Savea. The visitors' early momentum was halted when captain Chris Jack was sin-binned in the 20th minute, moments after referee Josh Noonan had warned the former All Blacks lock about his team's constant offending.
Canterbury were surprisingly held to a 23-23 draw by Hawke's Bay in Christchurch in their opening ITM Cup game on Friday.
The hosts looked poised to kick off their bid for a third successive national provincial title with a narrow victory when Colin Slade stroked over a penalty to put three points between the two sides with just two minutes to play. However, Andrew Horrell replied in kind in injury time, two minutes after the final hooter had sounded, to earn Hawke's Bay a share of the spoils.
Canterbury could have had little cause for complaint at the full-time whistle after a sloppy and ill-disciplined performance. They had started encouragingly, with their first try arriving after just six minutes of play, fullback Sean Maitland scything through the Hawke's Bay defence to score with the aid of a terrific line.
However, Canterbury struggled badly at the breakdown all evening and Hawke's Bay came roaring back to lead 14-13 thanks a try from Hika Elliot, after good work from Clint Newland, and three long-range penalties from Daniel Kirkpatrick. The visitors were rocked by the loss of Kirkpatrick shortly before the break but his replacement Horrell took little time to settle into the game and slotted over a penalty to help Hawke's Bay into a four-point advantage at the interval.
However, Newland hard earned himself a yellow card for a late charge on Stephen Brett just before half-time and Canterbury capitalised within 30 seconds of the restart, with winger Tu Umaga-Marshall dotting after charging down Jason Shoemark's attempted clearance. However, Horrell levelled matters once more, on 54 minutes, with another penalty and did so again with the last kick of the game after Slade had appeared to have won it for Canterbury.
Counties-Manukau sizzled when it counted to run Otago off their legs and notch a 29-13 in Pukekohe on Saturday. Competition also-rans for the past three seasons, the hosts were electric when the ball went wide and scored four tries to one in a hugely disappointing result for Otago and their new coach Phil Mooney, the former Queensland mentor.
The southerners had a superior scrum, were impressive on the drive, were more disciplined and dominated possession. They also played against 14 men for two 10-minute periods after Counties-Manukau front rowers Jono Owens and Grant Henson were sinbinned for repeat offences in the first spell. However, Otago weren't in the same ballpark when it came to flair and speed out wide and their only try was a flukey one to fullback Chris Small in the dying stages.
Three tries in 12 minutes in the second quarter of the match set up a victory. Ahsee Tuala stormed over after some neat offloading at pace by fellow-wing Sherwin Stowers and centre Siale Piatau. Moments later Piatau finished off a sweeping attack before fullback Tim Nanai-Williams showed his pace with a fine score soon before halftime. Otago first five-eighth Glenn Dickson landed penalties at the start and finish of the half but that was their last points before Small's late effort. The result was sealed when Tuala bagged his second try midway through the second half, a 95m intercept as Otago raided but failed to cross -- a typical scene throughout the match.
Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, 37, had a sound game for Counties-Manukau in his first provincial championship appearance since leaving Wellington in 2007 to act as a player/coach with French club Toulon.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Waikato held on to beat Bay of Plenty 13-10 in a tense Chiefs derby to claim early bragging rights. An error-ridden fixture in Hamilton saw the hosts emerge deserved winners although the loss to the sinbin of flanker Jack Lam and subsequent try to Bay of Plenty opposite number Tanerau Latimer ensured a tense closing 10 minutes. Waikato clung fast with a man down to avenge last year's loss and reward the work of their forwards, who dominated the scrum battle and were led superbly at the breakdown by flanker Liam Messam.
Another fringe All Black, halfback Brendon Leonard, scored their only try in the 37th minute, their first points of the game before opening up a 10-3 halftime advantage. The try was created by ACT Brumbies import Christian Leali'ifano, who offloaded sweetly to first five-eighth Trent Renata. His mazy run toyed with the defence before sending Leonard clear under the crossbar. Renata's skill made up for a mixed night with the boot, including missing his first three penalty shots at goal. It meant opposition No.10 Daniel Waenga's early penalty had the visitors in front for a long period despite Waikato holding an edge in most facets.
That advantage became more proncounced after the break and Leonard nearly bagged a second before being bundled into touch. Winger Dwayne Sweeney landed a 67th-minute penalty to extend the lead to 10 but Latimer was driven over against an undermanned Waikato pack soon afterwards, setting up the tight finish. Reserve back Phil Burleigh landed the wide conversion and had a chance to level the scores with 2min remaining via a 45m penalty shot. His attempt was straight but fell just under the crossbar.
The new seasoned kicked off on Thursday, with Northland producing a ruthless display to record a shock 26-19 victory over Taranaki in New Plymouth. Taranaki were sloppy throughout and two of Northland's three tries came directly from intercepts as the home side paid the maximum penalty for wayward passing. Taranaki's frustrations were apparent in the closing minutes when Northland wing Lachie Munro landed a 45m penalty to confirm the result after referee Garratt Williamson penalised the home side then made Munro's task all the easier by marching them 10m for back chat.
Taranaki had led 19-18 at halftime after the lead changed hands on five occasions. First five-eighth Willie Ripia's accurate goalkicking enabled them to edge ahead as he contributed 14 points to complement their sole try in the period to flanker Chris Walker, who flopped over the line in the 30th minute following a strong run to the line by his No.8 Ben Souness.
Northland fed off Taranaki's mistakes during the opening half when the home side missed 11 tackles and made 17 errors. But they, too, lacked fluidity although their backs looked threatening at times, particularly when All Blacks utility Rene Ranger got his hands on the ball at centre. Northland flanker Dean Budd pulled off a 60m intercept try in the 12th minute against the run of play, but there was nothing fortunate about their second when they stole lineout ball nine minutes later. The ball was quickly ferried to Ranger, who set off on a long, angled run before he popped a pass for his wing Simon Munro to cross in the right-hand corner.
Northland snuck ahead shortly after the break when wing Lachie Munro latched on to another intercept and had just enough pace over 40m to reach the tryline.
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