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Waikato robs Auckland again in thriller

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Saturday, October 30, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

It was another last-minute heartbreak for Auckland which lost in extra time in the preliminary round match between the two sides at the start of the competition.

The Aucklanders played themselves into the ground with lock Liaki Moli leaving the ground on a stretcher after the final whistle while livewire flanker Sean Polwart had to be assisted from the ground by team-mates after a magnificent game.

Waikato took the match to Auckland through the middle stages of the game with lock Romana Graham an outstanding contributor drawing good support from flankers Jack Lam and Dominiko Waqaniburotu.

But it was the dramatic all-out assault in the last five minutes at Auckland's line that was the winning of the game. Auckland had one of the better defensive records in the competition but it wasn't able to hold out the determined Mooloo men as Forbes went over in a maul of bodies to claim the winning try.

It was another entertaining final, if significantly harder up front than the Canterbury-Wellington try fest.

The virtue of following high kicks downfield was graphically illustrated in the eighth minute when Chay Raui fielded a 22m drop out after a failed penalty goal attempt by Gareth Anscombe. He put the ball high downfield and joined fellow wing Dave Thomas in chasing hard to catch No. 8 Alex Bradley with the ball. He passed to supporting first five-eighths Trent Renata but he was caught by Raui.

Quick possession from the ruck left huge unguarded areas in the Waikato 22m and second five-eighths Benson Stanley ran hard to secure the try. Anscombe added the conversion.

The first five-eighths almost scored himself soon after when chipping into the Waikato in-goal area and while impeded he didn't gain the support of referee Chris Pollock but soon after he landed a penalty goal.

After Renata landed a second penalty goal in the 27th minute, Waikato stormed back onto attack and ball was well won at the ruck it was moved on quickly for centre Save Tokula to charge hard at the line. While tackled, fullback Sosene Anesi was able to pick up and go over to give Waikato an 11-10 lead.

However, Auckland put the re-start to good use and after a series of rucks, it was halfback Toby Morland who darted around a narrow blindside to feed lock Liaki Moli running down the touchline. He then had the sense to link back infield where Morland was waiting for the pass to score.

Waikato was undeterred and stormed back into the Auckland 22m and from a lineout drive it was Graham who enjoyed the support of his whole pack in the drive over for the try. Renata's conversion gave Waikato a one-point lead at the break.

Five minutes into the second half, just after Thomas was taken from the field on a stretcher with a suspected neck injury, an outstanding turnover when Auckland was mounting an offensive drive towards Waikato's 22m area by flanker Jack Lam opened up a big chance on the openside.

Graham ate up the metres before linking with wing Dwayne Sweeney to carry the ball towards Auckland's line. From the ruck the ball found Graham again and he galloped over to extend Waikato's lead. When wing Henry Speight went over nine minutes later it seemed Waikato was bound for a date with Canterbury in the final.

But in the 57th minute, some storming play from Auckland centre Ben Atiga carried his side back onto attack and after Anscombe made a break, the resulting play saw replacement halfback Auvasa Faleali'i, who had only been on the field two minutes, take the ball from the base of a ruck and drive through beneath the posts to pull Auckland back within a point.

Ancombe kicked Auckland ahead with a 62nd minute penalty goal but a favourable bounce for fullback Brent Ward, off a chargedown of a Stanley kick, saw him feed Raui on a race down the left-hand touch where he out-paced the defence. Anscombe's sideline conversion carried Auckland to a 37-28 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

If the last round of roundrobin play marked Anscombe's arrival, then the semi-final demonstrated the immense potential of flanker Sean Polwart. The New Zealand Under-20 representative was a dynamo in his round-the-field play and demonstrated superb defensive qualities while also outstanding in support play. He looked a another part of the developing Auckland jigsaw.

Scorers were:
Auckland 37 (Benson Stanley, Toby Morland, Auvasa Faleali'i, Chay Raui tries; Gareth Anscombe 4 con, 3 pen) Waikato 38 (Sosene Anesi, Romana Graham 2, Henry Speight; Hikairo Forbes tries; Trent Renata 2 con 2 pen).
HT: 17-18