Auckland kept themselves in the hunt for an ITM Cup home semi-final with a hard fought 24-19 victory over Otago.
Auckland kept themselves in the hunt for an ITM Cup home semi-final with a hard fought 24-19 victory over Otago at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Thursday.
It was a tense tussle from the opening whistle between two sides fighting to secure a home semi-final, but an intercept try to star full-back Charles Piutau with ten minutes to play ultimately clinched the nail-biting win.
Auckland's failure to secure a four-try bonus point may prove costly however, with Wayne Pivac's side now anxiously awaiting the result of the Wellington v Taranaki game on Sunday to see whether they will secure a home semi-final.
Auckland need Taranaki to win without a bonus point to give their fans a home semi-final at Eden Park next Saturday, otherwise they will be on the road for their play-off match.
Otago got off to a nightmare start, dropping the ball cold from the kick-off and conceding a penalty from the ensuing scrum as Gareth Anscombe slotted an early penalty goal.
Auckland seemed desperate to spin the ball wide on the dry track of the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium, but Otago's defence was swarming as they pushed up hard on the inside to deny Auckland any clean ball.
Otago pivot Hayden Parker brought the scores level with a penalty kick after six minutes, but Auckland hit straight back with a try.
It was wing Ben Lam who sparked his side into action, making a strong run down the right flank and bowling over his opposite number Buxton Popoalii.
With a massive overlap out wide, prop Pauliasi Manu completely ignored his outsides unmarked as he charged straight towards the line, but the ball was quickly recycled and Dave Thomas went over in the corner for the opening try.
The visitors were unable to contain the Razorbacks however, with basic errors giving the home side countless opportunities to attack.
Parker slotted a penalty kick before his side hit the lead following a try to hooker Sam Anderson Heather who finished off a sustained passage of play.
Anscombe's kicking radar was on as he slotted two further penalty kicks to give his side a slender 14-13 lead at half-time, and it looked like the nippy first-five had scored an intercept try four minutes into the second stanza.
But in a baffling call, the Television Match Official denied the try as the scores remained locked.
Anscombe and Parker traded further penalties to bring the score to 17-16 heading into the final quarter of the game, but Piutau's try with ten minutes to go snatched the game for Auckland.
In a frantic period of play, the ball was charged down before being intercepted twice, the last of which fell into Piutau's grasp as he put on the afterburners to race 40 metres for the try.
Glenn Dickson managed to give his side a losing bonus point with a minute remaining but it will have little impact on the Championship table.
Tries: Thomas, Piutau t
Pens: Anscombe 4
Try: Heather try;
Pens: Parker 3, Dickson