Taranaki secured a place in the Mitre 10 Cup semi-finals when they claimed a hard-fought 35-32 victory over Auckland in New Plymouth on Thursday.
As the scoreline suggests, this was a tight contest and the result was in the balance until the final minute when Toa Halafihi crossed for the matchwinnning try after making a break from the back of a scrum.
Auckland, who gained two bonus points from their defeat, will have to wait for Tasman, Counties Manukau and Waikato to complete their fixtures over the next few days before they find out if they qualify for the play-offs.
The visitors made a bright start and were on the attack from the kick off. After a period of sustained pressure inside the home side’s 22, Melani Nanai went over for the opening try in the fourth minute after gathering a pass from Vince Aso.
Auckland continued to attack and 10 minutes later they were rewarded with their second try – Rieko Ioane rounding off after stepping past Stephen Perofet.
Shortly afterwards, Taranaki struck back via a Marty McKenzie try after Declan O’Donnell did well in the build up. McKenzie failed with his conversion attempt but added a penalty which meant Auckland led 12-8 by the half-hour mark.
The home side took the lead in the 36th minute when Seta Tamanivalu crossed the whitewash but it didn’t take long for the visitors to respond, with Rieko Ioane again being rewarded with a five-pointer after combining with Lolagi Visinia.
Simon Hickey added the extras, which meant Auckland led 19-13 at the break, and he added a penalty shortly after the restart which gave his side some breathing space.
Taranaki soon reduced the deficit when Rhys Marshall crossed the whitewash from a lineout drive deep inside the visitors’ half.
Auckland were then dealt a blow when Scott Scrafton was yellow carded for a professional foul on defence, and Taranaki made it a one point game on the hour mark when McKenzie succeeded with a penalty, but Hickey restored parity when he landed a three-pointer of his own shortly afterwards.
The game took a dramatic turn in the 67th minute when Ben Matwijow charged down an attempted clearance from Hickey, before regathering the loose ball and crossing for a crucial try which put his side back in front.
But Auckland continued to attack and regained the lead when they were awarded a penalty try, after O’Donnell prevented Nanai from dotting down.
O’Donnell was sent to the sin bin for his indiscretion but despite their numerical disadvantage, Taranaki continued to attack and were rewarded shortly before the end with Halafihi’s superb effort which sealed their win.
Tries: McKenzie, Tamanivalu, Marshall, Matwijow, Halafihi
Cons: McKenzie 2
Pens: McKenzie 2
Yellow Card: O’Donnell
Tries: Nanai, R Ioane 2, Penalty try
Cons: Hickey 3
Pens: Hickey 2
Yellow Card: Scrafton
Taranaki: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Declan O’Donnell, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Beaudein Waaka, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Kylem O’Donnell, 8 Toa Halafihi, 7 Mitchell Crosswell (c), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Leighton Price, 4 Ben Matwijow, 3 Ryan Cocker, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Sione Lea, 17 Jared Proffit, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Lachlan Boshier, 20 Adrian Wyrill, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Latu Vaeno
Auckland: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Lolagi Visinia, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Pryor Collier, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Leon Fukofuka, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Josh Kaifa, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Scott Scrafton, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Blake Hill, 17 Tom McHugh, 18 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 19 Ben Nee Nee, 20 Sinclair Dominikovich-Murray, 21 Jono Hickey, 22 Liam Steel, 23 Latiume Fosita
Referee: Shane McDermott