Rugby: Auckland wallop Otago

By Campbell Burnes

Auckland 54 Otago 17
Taleni Seu of Auckland. Photo / Getty
Taleni Seu of Auckland. Photo / Getty

The sleeping giant awakens.

That was more like it from Auckland tonight. They exploded in the first spell, comfortably their best start of any 2016 Premiership game, and such was their dynamism and execution the visitors had no answer, scrambling to hold their defensive line intact.

There was also the rare and arresting sight of Otago coach Cory Brown hooking three of the backs in the 43rd minute, a sure sign of coaching displeasure. Otago missed 16 tackles to very few in the second half, and 23 in all. That told a story. Fullback Michael Collins was one of the few who could hold his head high.

Auckland played their free-wheeling style that had served them so well throughout their run to the 2015 Premiership final. It hasn't seen enough in 2016. But when their forwards give short passes and the ball is kept alive, sooner or later one of the Ioanes will penetrate and they are away. Rieko Ioane scored his second hat-trick on the bounce and goes to the top of the tryscoring charts on eight with Bay of Plenty's Joe Tupe.

First five-eighths Simon Hickey provided the spark in the first half. Not noted as a Beauden Barrett-type of footballer, he made two slashing breaks which led to tries and scored one himself with a pirouette move.

He also kicked eight from 10 on his way to 24 points (passing 100 points for the season) and, on this form, it's curious why he is being bypassed for Super Rugby. It's likely he will push hard for a starting berth at Bordeaux-Begles ahead of two internationals in Lionel Beauxis and Ian Madigan if he can continue to play like last night.

Lolagi Visinia's hair - some form of attempted peroxide - stood out as much as his rugby. He ran in a try from a Melani Nanai grubber.

Some of the forwards were very industrious. No 6 Taleni Seu was ubiquitous and scored a try before retiring hurt, while Akira Ioane soaked up a mountain of defence. His try assist/offload for his brother was a delight to behold.

Steven Luatua made a pleasing 58-minute comeback from injury and prop Marcel Renata carried with vigour. Lock Scott Scrafton set up Ioane's second try.

The pack in general, perhaps inspired by some pre-match words by Keven Mealamu, looked committed, energised and aggressive for much of the contest.

Auckland retained the Lin Colling Memorial Trophy and moved up to second on the Premiership table. They haven't played like they were the second best team in the country for most of the season. In truth, they have been downright inconsistent but, when their offensive game clicked, it was always going to be hard for any hapless opponent to live with them.

They next face the Tasman Makos, who will now be on high alert, at Eden Park on Thursday in a Premiership fixture. Otago, still on top of the Championship log, host Counties Manukau next Saturday in a crossover clash.

Auckland 54 (R. Ioane 3, T. Seu, L. Visinia, M. Nanai, S. Hickey tries; Hickey 5 cons, 3 pens)
Otago 17 (D. Brighouse, J. Aoina tries; F. Smith con, pen, S. Eade con) Halftime: 27-10.

- NZ Herald

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