Auckland picked up their third win on end with an unconvincing 25-22 win over Counties-Manukau in a national provincial championship rugby match in Auckland tonight.
Trailing 15-16 at the break, Auckland had to work hard to secure victory, despite dominating possession and territory for much of the match.
Counties, coming off three consecutive losses, were desperate for a win while Auckland had finally started to build momentum after bonus-point wins over Southland and North Harbour.
In the end, that momentum saw them home was just enough to see them home, despite the best efforts of the never-say-die Counties attack which threatened right until the final whistle.
It was an ever-mounting penalty count against Counties-Manukau that proved conclusive: Auckland first five-eighth Gareth Anscombe's accurate boot kicked the home team out to a 12-3 lead after half hour, and he was responsible for all but five points of their total.
Auckland built a huge advantage in terms of territory and possession in the first 40 minutes, with the pick and go particularly effective, but were unable to break some solid Counties-Manukau defence.
Two minutes after Baden Kerr had narrowed Auckland's lead to 12-6 with yet another penalty, Counties-Manukau finally capitalised on some rare field position after a break down the right from winger Ahsee Tuala.
Desperate defence from Auckland halfback Alby Matthewson brought down his Counties counterpart David Bason just short of the line, but the ball was quickly moved wide for winger Sherwin Stowers to scythe through the defence for the try.
Kerr followed up the conversion with a superb 50m penalty to give Counties-Manukau a 16-12 lead, which Anscombe pegged back right on halftime with yet another penalty.
Barely five minutes after the restart, Auckland were again pounding the Counties line, and the visitors succumbed to the inevitable after loosehead prop Simon Lemalu was sinbinned for a ruck infringement.
With Counties-Manukau on the back foot from the resulting scrum, quick ball found Auckland winger George Moala who proved too strong from close range.
Anscombe nailed the conversion, and Auckland regained the lead 22-16.
The two teams exchanged penalties for the rest of the match, with Auckland lucky to escape with the win after Lemalu dived over for Counties in the 81st minute but was ruled to have been off his feet when he played the ball.