Taranaki stun Auckland to claim home semi

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Thursday, October 13, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The result, which was only achieved when home No.8 Toa Halafihi drove over from a big five-metre scrum in the dying seconds of play to secure a win, gave Taranaki a home semi-final in the Mitre 10 Premiership play-offs.

Auckland, by virtue of their two bonus points still have an outside chance, especially if Counties Manukau are unable to take a bonus point in their game against Canterbury in Pukekohe on Saturday afternoon. Tasman will also need to avoid a banana skin performance against Southland in Nelson on Sunday.

Ultimately, Auckland paid the price for third quarter discipline issues when a series a penalties allowed Taranaki to gain the momentum that carried them to the victory. However, Auckland had their chance courtesy of a penalty try in the 71st minute but were unable to tie up the ball and Taranaki needed no second invitation to storm into Auckland's 22m area.

Auckland charged after the kick-off and signalled their intent by rocking the ball taker with a solid tackle. Taranaki conceded a penalty at a scrum and when Auckland opted for another scrum they created a foundation which saw prop Sam Prattley take a gap and head towards the goalmouth. But when tackled the ball was cleared and second five-eighths Vince Aso was able to slip a pass to fullback Melani Nanai who scored.

Taranaki suffered a blow in the same movement when losing captain and openside flanker Mitchell Crosswell who failed to pass a concussion test.

After 11 minutes Rieko Ioane struck the first blow in his contest with All Black centre Seta Tamanivalu when getting around him on Auckland's 22 line. He quickly moved downfield and escaped first five-eighths Marty McKenzie's hold and charged on. From the ruck lock Michael Fatialofa charged onto the ball at first receiver and he too, made it through an initial tackle attempt.

From the ruck the ball reached Nanai on the sideline and he moved slightly infield before finding Ioane had crossed behind him and was in place to score in the corner.

Taranaki made the most of some good fortune when wing Declan O'Donnell was ruled to have not knocked the ball on. He set off on a run through the Auckland defence, unleashed a big fend on prop Marcel Renata and then flicked a backhand pass to McKenzie who was waiting on the sideline to run the final 30m for Taranaki's opening try.

Auckland escaped three possible try-scoring chances, the first came when a driving lineout maul saw the Auckland defence hold the ball carrier up to earn a turnover scrum.

Then another chance for fullback Stephen Perofeta after an exchange of knock-ons of loose ball by the Auckland posts was ruled to have been initiated by Taranaki and the third saw O'Donnell come into the backline from the blindside wing where he opened up the defences and opted to throw a pass just short of the goal-line.

The only problem was Auckland wing Lolagi Visinia was on hand to intercept and clear play well downfield. But just before halftime, Tamanivalu evened up the score by pushing off Ioane's tackle in an orthodox backline movement to cross for a try that gave Taranaki their first lead of the game.

However, it only lasted two minutes as Auckland cleared quick ball from the midfield restart and lock Scott Scrafton flicked a pass to Ioane, who in turn found Visinia on the opposite wing with only one defender in front. With Ioane having stayed in support he took the in-pass to race away for his second try of the night.

Auckland paid the price for indiscipline, especially in attempting to cope with Taranaki's tactic of employing the rolling lineout maul which in the 51st minute resulted in a try for hooker Rhys Marshall and soon after more penalties resulted in Scrafton earning a yellow card.

However, a Hickey penalty goal soon got Auckland in front, but moments later he had a clearing kick charged down by lock Ben Matwijow who regathered and scored to get out to a 28-25 lead.

But in a dramatic turn at the other end of the field Hickey redeemed himself by slipping a grubber kick towards the goal-line where Nanai was able to secure the ball, only to take a blow to the face from O'Donnell which resulted in a penalty try being awarded and O'Donnell sin-binned.

Scorers: Taranaki 35 (Marty McKenzie, Seta Tamanivalu, Rhys Marshall, Ben Matwijow, Toa Halafihi tries; McKenzie 2 con, 2 pen) Auckland 32 (Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane 2 tries, penalty try; Simon Hickey 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 13-19 

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