Hawke's Bay 29
The ITM Cup is renowned for entertaining rugby and it will be hoped last night's season opener between Auckland and Hawke's Bay set the tone for this year's edition.
The final scoreline didn't really tell the tale for an extraordinary match.
Auckland easily established a 26-9 halftime lead as they clinically took advantage of a limp Hawke's Bay performance but within 10 minutes of the re-start saw that advantage evaporate as they capitulated under a Magpies onslaught.
Auckland eventually recovered, and wrestled control with an Alby Mathewson try in the 72nd minute.
The quality of the rugby wasn't always great and players seemed to struggle with some of the new law variations at scrum time and when clearing ruck ball, but it had plenty of intrigue.
Auckland played with considerably more intensity and accuracy than the home side in the first half, even though Hawke's Bay had more territory and possession.
The Magpies were slow to react and gave away silly penalties in kickable areas and Auckland first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe cashed in.
Charlie Faumuina, who was released by the All Blacks to play the game, scored the first try of the new season when he crashed over in the 20th minute.
Hawke's Bay were also slow to react for Auckland's second, when Ben Lam chipped ahead and out-paced the cover.
The home side looked out of the game but, amazingly, led 29-26 inside 15 minutes of the restart.
The charge was started by an Andrew Horrell try in the 42nd minute when he powered over despite the attention of four Auckland defenders and continued when Star Timu scored from a quick throw-in close to the line.
It was a reversal of fortunes and Auckland suddenly looked helpless. It didn't help they lost skipper Daniel Braid with a knee injury in the 17th minute but, with 14 Super Rugby players in their starting side, should have coped better.
An Anscombe penalty on the hour stopped the rot and Mathewson's try after some more good work from Lam put Auckland in the box seat.
Auckland 36 (Charlie Faumuina, Ben Lam, Alby Mathewson tries; Gareth Anscombe 5 pens, 3 cons)
Hawke's Bay 29 (Andrew Horrell, Star Timu tries; Dan Waenga 5 pens, 2 cons). HT: 26-9.