Northland end Auckland's season
October 5, 2008
Auckland's creaking defence of their provincial rugby crown finally crumbled beyond repair at Eden Park today as Northland continued celebrating their top flight survival with a rare 21-13 victory.
The margin was not enough to lift Northland into the play-offs but it was sufficient to ensure Auckland's 125th anniversary season ended on a desolate and premature note.
Replacement Ash Moeke's injury time penalty proved the killer blow as it denied error-prone Auckland a bonus point that would have seen them pip Taranaki for the eighth and final spot -- and a trip to top qualifiers Wellington next Saturday.
Taranaki now face that assignment -- the two bonus-points they gleaned from Friday's 41-45 loss to Waikato enough to prolong their survival.
They finished on 23 points, one ahead of Auckland, who would have progressed if the tallies were tied because they won the round-robin fixture 22-6.
However, Northland ultimately rendered those permutations irrevelant by relentlessly recovering from a 13-3 deficit late in the first half to record just their second win over Auckland since the old NPC started in 1976 -- belatedly following their success at Eden Park seven years ago.
It was also their third win on the bounce and left Auckland to contemplate a five-win, five-loss record that included the concession of the Ranfurly Shield to Wellington.
Despite being bolstered by All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu and Joe Rokocoko's return from a hamstring strain, Auckland again committed too many elementary errors -- particularly when they squandered several attempts to score a match-winning or at least drawing try in the final 10 minutes.
Having survived a desperate assault from Auckland, Northland displayed the brand of ball security the hosts had craved when winding down the clock by inching the ball forward at will until Mealamu could not resist using his hands at the ruck.
Moeke goaled the handy penalty after captain Justin Collins initially wanted the ball kicked out.
Northland ended the season in 10th place while Auckland, who now require a new coach to replace Blues assistant Shane Howarth were 11th -- a dramatic contrast from last year's all conquering Ranfurly Shield-winning season.
Rokocoko opened the scoring in the 19th minute when he backed up a break from captain Ben Atiga to score handy to the posts and despite Atiga then the buffer in multiples of three, Auckland never looked settled despite the advantage of a strong breeze at their backs.
Northland began their stirring 18-point comeback in the 33rd minute when Auckland muffed a restart, a turnover which enabled blindside Blair Urlich to handle twice before crossing a blade of glass inside the corner flag.
Veteran David Holwell missed the extras but when he coolly slotted a 35-metre dropped goal in the 38th minute and at the break, Auckland's advantage amounted to a mere two points.
That deficit was almost erased in the 42nd minute when centre Rene Ranger went desperately close before being scragged by Rokocoko but the injury-plagued All Blacks wing could not effect a similar rescue act when he slipped after Crusaders-bound fullback Jared Payne ran on to a Holwell inside pass to sever the line and wrong foot the last defender.
Holwell's conversion gave Northland an 18-13 advantage and heralded the start of a bumbling 15-minute period that typified Auckland's frustrating campaign.
Fullback Jamie Helleur lost the ball with the tryline beckoning, Rokocoko was correctly called back after a forward pass while he also spilled the ball when ankle-tapped 5m out nine minutes from time.
Result of the 10th round Air NZ Cup rugby clash played between Auckland and Northland at Eden Park here today:-
Northland 21 (Blair Urlich, Jared Payne tries; David Holwell pen dg con, Ash Moeke pen)
Auckland 13 (Joe Rokocoko try; Ben Atiga 2 pen con)
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