Waikato have regained the Stan Thomas Memorial after an action-packed Premiership clash at Eden Park.
For large periods, the Mooloos were the better side, getting on top at the set-piece and sparked on attack by Damian McKenzie. They scored five tries and were all over Auckland for the first and third quarters. In between there was some energy from the home team, mainly provided by No 8 Akira Ioane, who was industrious and effective. But too often there was a dropped pass or a missed tackle in what is becoming the story of an inconsistent season. Perhaps most gut-wrenching of all will be that Auckland have dropped just their second match at Eden Park since 2011, not to mention surrendering the silverware for the first time since 2013.
Auckland lock Patrick Tuipulotu, with much to prove, galloped around the track, scored a try, won his lineouts and kickoffs and almost sparked a last second try, but replacement Latiume Fosita lost control of the ball when an unlikely win looked on the cards. They were trailing 35-18 with eight minutes to play when they sprang to life, Blake Gibson, who was in remarkably strong form given his long layoff with a broken thumb, scoring his second.
Waikato need to bottle some of their work, namely the first 20 against Auckland and North Harbour, when they looked world-beaters. But sustaining it has proven beyond them. They have talent aplenty but drop off the intensity too often. They did have a potent finisher in wing Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara, who was playing club rugby in Auckland just last year. He scored twice in the corner off slick Waikato back moves.
The competition picture sees Auckland move to second, thanks to their two bonus points, while this young Waikato side move up to third.
Auckland host Counties Manukau next Sunday, while later that afternoon Waikato defend the Shield against Taranaki.
Waikato 35 (Loni Uhila, Sevu Reece, Hame Faiva, Iliesa Ratuva Tavuyara 2 tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, 2 pen)
Auckland 32 (Blake Gibson 2, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Simon Hickey 3 con, 2 pen)