Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Auckland battle to beat Bay

Hadleigh Parkes scored one of his side's four tries as Auckland beat Bay of Plenty 32-17 at Eden Park today. Photo / Getty
Hadleigh Parkes scored one of his side's four tries as Auckland beat Bay of Plenty 32-17 at Eden Park today. Photo / Getty

Auckland 32
Bay of Plenty 17

Maybe the real Auckland are starting to emerge. It took the home side a while to get comfortably in front at Eden Park today, but they eventually did - which was testimony to their fitness, belief and better use of space.

There were periods where they were average; periods where they were unlucky and periods where they were quite compelling.

The tireless Luke Braid gave them an edge in the forward battle, as did a front-row that appears to have grown immeasurably after enduring a tough Super Rugby campaign.

Piri Weepu did enough to keep Auckland in the right places and a seriously good Bay of Plenty back row on their toes, while Simon Hickey at first-five has the necessary and welcome skill of being able to stay confident and back his skills even after he's made a few mistakes.

The difference between the two sides in the end was probably cohesion and passion.

Auckland had that little bit more urgency and obvious desire to be the first to the ball: To win the scrums and the collisions and to play on the front foot.

Probably, that had much to do with the presence of Keven Mealamu in the No2 jersey. The All Black veteran rarely gets the chance to play for his province, but having not been involved at all in the second test against the Wallabies, he obviously fancied a run. That's how it is with Mealamu - he's not a man to see a session in the gym as a substitute for playing.

At 34, he still loves being out there - hitting the breakdowns, controlling the lineouts and mentoring those around him. He was into everything - still going strong in the final minutes which may explain why Auckland were doing the same.

Who in the Auckland side would want to look like they were tiring before the old general? Who would want to be looking Mealamu in the eye after the game if they had not emptied the tank completely?

It was that desire to be pushing hard at the death that saw Auckland secure a bonus point try in the last minute. Their willingness to run from inside their own 22 in search of the clincher was a sign of their hunger and desire to finish this competition with a title.

That commitment was also visible in the way they scrambled defensively at times - Weepu, Peter Saili and others all chipping in with huge, try-saving tackles that made all the difference.

With a few games under their belts now and some of the patterns and moves beginning to be in, Auckland are starting to look more like a genuine threat.

Hadleigh Parkes marshalled things well from midfield and if there is just a small lift in basic skill execution, Auckland could be a dangerous beast in weeks to come.

Auckland 32 (M. Fekitoa, L. Braid, G. Moala. H. Parkes tries; S. Hickey 3 cons, 2 pens)
Bay of Plenty 17 (K. Sitauti try; W. Ripia 4 pens)

- Herald on Sunday

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