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NPC Final : Auckland much too strong for Waikato
Huw Turner
October 26, 2002

Auckland are again New Zealand's top provincial side after a magnificent six-try to three , 40-28 victory over Waikato in the NPC Final in Hamilton on Saturday evening.

In the lead as early as the third minute, the Aucklanders were never headed as they subdued a strangely hesitant Waikato side in the first quarter. Deon Muir's men did stage the inevitable rallies without ever achieving the continuity between forwards and backs which has been their exciting hallmark in 2002. However, this was largely because the bruising Auckland defence hit their men back time after time , clearly buoyed by victories over Wellington and then Canterbury in the last two weeks. They travelled to Hamilton with a precise game plan and carried it out to perfection.

Carlos Spencer surely sealed his place on the All Black tour. Apart from one or two blemishes in the second half, and an indifferent goal kicking display , he kept his forwards on the front foot all evening with the length and accuracy of his kicking out of hand. Outside him Muliaina, Howlett and Ward proved themselves a constant danger when opportunities arose but this was not a game distinguished by its continuity . Up front , skipper Rush was again in inspirational mood, and he was well supported by Mealamu, Meeuws, Collins and Williams. Both opensiders , Braid for Auckland and Holah for Waikato had their quietest games of the season, another indicator of the relative lack of continuity in the play.

Waikato will be disappointed that Auckland so comprehensively dictated the play and that as a consequence they failed to get their game going. In the opening spell they lacked composure and in many respects seemed overawed by the occasion. Try as he might, Deon Muir failed to achieve the consistent go-forward that is his trademark and crucially his forwards lacked the powerful drive that we have seen from them all season.

Starved of good ball going forward, fly half Derek Maisey was unable to make much of an impression. Keith Lowen was superb all night and Regan King had his moments but as a unit the Waikato backs failed to ignite.

Spencer and Reihana traded early penalties before a try scoring blitz from Auckland threatened to seal the game in the opening quarter. Muliaina scored on the right after 8 minutes, Mealamu made the most of an untidy Waikato line out to pounce after 15 minutes and Spencer ghosted around the blindside of a scrum after 22 minutes.

Stung into retaliation, Waikato scored their first try after King ran on to a well-delivered pass from Maisey to dot down beneath the posts. In the lead-up to the try, Muir had made good ground on the left after turning down the possibility of three points from a penalty and deciding to attack from a lineout. Reihana's conversion narrowed the gap to just 10 points and as his side continued to chip away at the Auckland defence before half time he kicked two further penalties to just about even things up at the break. At that point Auckland led 20-16.

Having clawed their way back into contention, there was a feeling that Waikato may have recovered their poise sufficiently to settle down to play their game. But this was shortlived. Auckland were immediately on the attack , Rush himself benefiting from more poor Waikato line out work to gather from a poorly directed throw to drive over some desperate defence. This was quickly followed up by a morale sapping breakaway try from Doug Howlett. A promising Waikato move broke down when replacement flanker Bates lost the ball just inside the Auckland 22, Howlett pounced and nobody got anywhere near to outflanking him.

A well-worked Smith try after a clever pass from Duggan had the Mooloo bells ringing around the ground again but a Spencer penalty and Howlett's second try , this time on the left, well and truly sealed Waikato's fate. Lowen scored a deserved try after Roger Randle finally managed to wriggle clear of the Auckland defence but this was far too late to make any difference.

So this young Auckland side capped a stunning second half of the season, their success coming after coaches Pivac and Fox had introduced some exciting new talent when they realised that their side was not really combining as it needed to.They have an exciting future.


Waikato v Auckland


Scorers :

Waikato : 28 : Tries : King, Smith, Lowen. Conversions : Reihana ( 2 ). Penalties : Reihana ( 3 )

Auckland : 40 : Tries : Howlett ( 2 ), Muliaina, Mealamu, Spencer , Rush. Conversions : Spencer ( 2 ) Penalties : Spencer ( 2 ).


Teams :

Waikato : Todd Miller , Roger Randle, Regan King , Keith Lowen, Bruce Reihana, Derek Maisey, Rhys Duggan, Deon Muir ( captain ), Marty Holah, Jonno Gibbes, Keith Robinson, Sean Hohneck, Deacon Manu, Greg Smith, Michael Collins.

Subs : Scott Linklater, David Briggs, Steven Bates, Scott Couch, Isaac Boss, Mark Ranby, Loki Crichton


Auckland : Brent Ward, Doug Howlett, Mils Muliaina, Sam Tuitupou, Ben Atiga, Carlos Spencer, Steve Devine, Xavier Rush ( captain ), Daniel Braid, Justin Collins, Ali Williams, Bradley Mika, Kees Meeuws, Keven Mealamu, Scott Palmer.

Subs : James Christian, John Afoa, Bryce Williams, Angus MacDonald, David Gibson, Lee Stensness, Iliesa Tanivula.

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