Auckland beat Southland 39-26 at Eden Park, thanks to replacement Pauliasi Manu's try that saved the home side blushes.
Auckland beat Southland 39-26 at Eden Park on Wednesday, thanks to replacement Pauliasi Manu's try that saved the home side blushes.
After suffering three losses in their opening four matches, Auckland resurrected their season and showed plenty of fighting spirit to weather a late Southland comeback to bank a five-tries-to-four win.
The home side raced out to a 32-12 lead before being pegged back by the fast finishing Ranfurly Shield holders.
Injuries decimated Auckland's forward pack as all three of their locks (Josh Townsend, Richard Haddon and Steven Luatua) went off injured as well as debutant flanker Sam Henwood, meaning Auckland finished the match with a prop at lock and a hooker at flanker.
The injuries coincided with Southland rolling on their big guns from the reserves bench as the visitors clawed their way back into the match, but Auckland showed plenty of determination and superb defence in the final quarter to repel their raids and strike back with a try of their own on full-time to seal the victory.
Coming off their worst ever defeat to Taranaki on Sunday, Auckland knew they needed to respond immediately to get their season back on track but it took them a while to find their groove.
Auckland centre Hadleigh Parkes scored for the home side 10 minutes in following a strong run by captain Tom McCartney, but Southland's response was swift and immediate.
Auckland were unable to get out of their own 22, losing a scrum and turning over ball from their own line-out. Following a number of phases in close to the ruck, the ball was shifted wide as Glen Horton managed to get on the outside of Francis Saili to go over for the try.
Seven minutes later Southland pivot Scott Eade picked up the ball from the base of the ruck, threw a dummy pass and sliced through a gap, outpacing the cover defence to crash over in the corner.
However, Auckland shrugged off their sluggish start and soon warmed to the task at hand – scoring 27 unanswered points to take a commanding 32-12 lead on the hour mark.
Rampaging number eight Chris Lowrey had a busy game and levelled the scores after Teddy Stanaway popped the ball up to him metres from the try line, before two Gareth Anscombe penalty kicks either side of half-time saw Auckland take an 18-12 lead.
Joe Rokocoko was always looking for work and showed the national selectors he hasn't lost any of his famous pace, pouncing on the ball as it popped out from the opposition's ruck and flying 70 metres down the sideline to score.
Anscombe then made sure of the result four minutes later, carving up the Southland defence and beating four players on the way to the line to clinch the bonus point try.
But with Auckland's forward stocks slowly diminishing and Southland bringing on the likes of Jamie Mackintosh, Scott Cowan and Robbie Robinson, the visitors soon struck back with two quickfire tries to James Wilson and Tim Boys to get within six points.
However Auckland were not about to relinquish their lead as they showed outstanding defence on the tryline, before launching an attack down the other end of the field as Pauliasi Manu burrowed over the line on full-time to seal the victory.
Tries: Anscombe, Lowrey, Rokocoko, Parkes, Manu
Cons: Anscombe 4
Pens: Anscombe 2
Tries: Wilson, Boys, Horton, Eade
Cons: Wilson 3
Auckland: 15 Brent Ward, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Hadleigh Parkes, 12 Teddy Stanaway, 11 Francis Saili, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Nathan Hughes, 5 Josh Townsend, 4 Steven Luatua, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Tom McCartney (c).
Replacements: 16 Pauliasi Manu, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Richard Haddon, 19 Ben Masoe, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Piers Francis, 22 George Moala, 23 Angus Ta'avao.
Southland: 15 Glen Horton, 14 Kade Poki, 13 James Lew, 12 James Wilson, 11 Tony Koonwaiyou, 10 Scott Eade, 9 Sonny Rangitoheriri, 8 Kaleni Taetuli, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Tom Chamberlain, 5 Joe Tuineau, 4 Ben Nally, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Micheal Peterson.
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Michael Fatialofa, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Scott Cowan, 21 Matt Saunders, 22 Robbie Robinson, 23 Nic Barrett.
Referee: Vinny Munro