Andrew Alderson

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Rugby: Auckland win bleak capital outing

Wellington's TJ Perenara kicks against Auckland.
Photo / Getty Images
Wellington's TJ Perenara kicks against Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

Wellington 17
Auckland 21

It looked miserable - to play in and to watch. Being home in front of the fire - or the heat pump in modern day green-friendly parlance - was the preference for all but the most hardened rugby fans and 46 courageous players in Auckland's 21-17 win over Wellington last night in the capital.

Looking at the sea of empty yellow seats as the rain raged in from the south, this match had the feel of a curtainraiser. Like much of the ITM Cup to date, it effectively was, as people save their time, money and energy to back the World Cup starting in less than seven weeks.

The players must have been willing the hot water cylinders to play their part when the final whistle blew and they escaped the nine degree blizzard.

Wellington failed to take advantage of the break during the week to compound more misery on Auckland who lost their opening two matches. Auckland summoned up the courage to repel the home side, turning around from a midweek loss to Otago.

Wellington suffered their first loss after beating Taranaki in round one.

Auckland had the better of the territory (62 per cent) and possession (60 per cent) in the first half to earn a three-point lead at the break.

That pattern did not change throughout, although Wellington surged back into contention in the last 10 minutes with a try to Jeremy Thrush.

The match reflected a contrast in game plans. While both sides put the ball to the air at times, Auckland kept it in hand more and were rewarded.

Wellington had spells putting boot to ball as an aerial and ground-based weapon but Auckland repelled their advance through sure hands. Veteran fullback Brent Ward was a useful example. The Wellington players could not offer the same assurance.

Players dropped the ball in their own half and Lima Sopoaga struggled a couple of times to kick any distance.

The Auckland forwards seized on that difference by building phases together and keeping the ball tight - particularly the front row of Charlie Faumuina, skipper Tom McCartney and Tevita Mailau - before unleashing the likes of Joe Rokocoko and Francis Saili for the occasional foray into the Wellington defensive line.

Wellington succumbed to several Auckland drives in the first five minutes which created a try for blindside flanker Nathan Hughes.

Likewise Auckland had one major lapse in the first half. Wellington strung together several phases and left wing Julian Savea, having one of his stronger moments in the match, powered into the Auckland defence. Hooker Dane Coles eventually eased across the line as if poking his nose through a sparsely-thatched neighbour's hedge.

Charles Piutau cemented Auckland's win with a try midway through the second half after a bolshie run from centre Hadleigh Parkes. Auckland shuffled the ball across field to Piutau who had only to win a foot race to the corner.

Wellington 17 (D. Coles, J. Thrush tries, L. Sopoaga 2 cons, Sopoaga pen)
Auckland 21 (N. Hughes, C. Piutau tries, G. Anscombe con, Anscombe 3 pen). Halftime: Auckland 13-10.

- Herald on Sunday

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