Auckland held off a brave Hawke's Bay resurgance to claim a close 36-29 win in the opening round of the ITM Cup at McLean Park on Thursday.
Leading 26-9 at half-time, the visitors looked to have the game in the bag. But the Magpies came back strongly in the second half, and at one stage took the lead (26-29) with a quarter of the game remaining.
However, with the scores level (29-29) and with eight minutes left on the clock, Auckland scrum-half Alby Mathewson scored the match-winning try to seal the deal for his team.
Tries to prop Charlie Faumuina - released by the All Blacks for this game - and winger Ben Lam coupled with some accurate goal-kicking from fly-half Gareth Anscombe (who landed 21 points on the night) put Auckland into a commanding lead in the first half.
Hawke's Bay pivot Daniel Waenga could only muster three penalties for his team before the break, but the hosts were a different kettle of fish in the second forty.
Inside centre Andrew Horrell started the Magpies' spirited comeback when he crashed through a host of defenders and twist over the line to score. Hawke's Bay were at it again - this time through Horrell's midfield partner Star Timu who went over after taking a quick throw-in from flanker Karl Lowe.
A Waenga penalty tied the scores up, and then another gave Hawke's Bay the lead for the first time entering the final quarter.
Anscombe levelled the scores at 29-all before Lam did all the hard work before putting Mathewson in for the match-winner that broke the local's hearts.
For Hawke's Bay:
Tries: Horrell, Timu
Cons: Waenga 2
Pens: Waenga 5
Tries: Faumuina, Lam, Mathewson
Cons: Anscombe 3
Pens: Anscombe 5
Hawke's Bay: 15 Gillies Kaka, 14 Tino Nemani, 13 Star Timu, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Waenga, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Mike Coman (capt), 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 5 Maselino Paulino , 4 Ross Kennedy, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Brendon Edmonds
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Peter Borlase, 18 Kieran Coll, 19 Tivaini Fomai, 20 Isaac Paewai, 21 Tua Saseve, 22 Nick McLennan.
Auckland:15 Charles Piutau, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Hadleigh Parkes , 11 George Moala, 10 Gareth Anscombe 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Andrew Van der Heijden, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina / Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi/ Angus Ta'avao, 18 Nathan Hughes, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Auvasa Faleali'i, 21 Tony Fenner, 22 Dave Thomas.