A late try from George Moala helped Auckland to secure a 23-23 draw against Southland in their ITM Cup opener in Invercargill on Thursday.
Auckland had a chance to clinch victory in added time but Mitch Hunt failed to land a penalty attempt from 40 metres out.
The visitors made the brighter start and raced into a 16-3 lead inside the opening half hour, after Ben Lam crossed for a try set up by Moala. Jono Hickey also contributed 11 points via three penalties and a conversion.
But Southland made a comeback shortly before half-time thanks to a try from Keiran Moffat, after he intercepted a pass just inside his half. Ash Moeke, who added Southland's opening points via a penalty earlier, kicked the extras which meant Auckland held a 16-10 lead at half-time.
Southland dominated after the restart and – after Moeke added a penalty in the 45th minute – took the lead when Elliot Dixon scored their second try after collecting a crossfield kick from Moeke.
The home side's fly-half added another three-pointer from the kicking tee, which gave his side a 23-16 lead, before Moala saved his side's blushes with his try in the 70th minute.
Tries: Moffat, Dixon
Cons: Moeke 2
Pens: Moeke 3
Tries: Lam, Moala
Cons: Hickey 2
Pens: Hickey 3
Southland: 15 Junior Ngaluafe, 14 Lolohea Loco, 13 Keiran Moffat, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Keanu Kahukura, 10 Ash Moeke, 9 Scott Eade, 8 Bill Fukofuka, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joel Everson, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Morgan Mitchell, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Dillan Halaholo, 17 Rueben Northover, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Michael Stewart, 20 Alex Taylor, 21 Liam Howley, 22 James Schrader, 23 Sean Conner.
Auckland: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Vince Aso, 12 George Moala, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Jono Hickey, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Ofa Tuiungafasi, 2 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 1 Sam Prattley.
Replacements: 16 Jono Owen, 17 Kurt Eklund, 18 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 19 Williams Lloyd, 20 Taleni Seu, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Calvary Fonoti, 23 Lolagi Visinia.
Referee: Kane McBride