Canterbury 32

Auckland 27

From bad to worse for Auckland rugby.

Auckland are facing relegation from the top division for the first time in their history, after a 32-27 loss to Canterbury at Eden Park on Friday night.

The result means that Auckland will play in the Championship next year if Waikato beat Bay of Plenty in Tauranga on Saturday.

It should prompt a major shake-up within the Union, after a season where their three wins have only been against teams from the second tier.

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As a contest this was much closer than anyone had predicted, with Auckland pushing Canterbury to the limit with one of their better performances this season.

They could have stolen it at the death, but, as they have done all season, lacked the poise at the crucial moments.

Auckland hadn't beaten Canterbury since 2013, and many thought the score much resemble their last clash, when the red and blacks prevailed 49-3 in Christchurch.

But this was a vastly different scenario.

Auckland led 13-12 at halftime - against the run of play - and kept battling against their more favoured opponents.

But Canterbury were clinical in the key moments, and showed their class and grit in the last 10 minutes, managing to hold Auckland out despite being down to 14 men following a yellow card to Inga Finau.

Canterbury completely dominated the first 10 minutes, as they laid siege to the Auckland line.

They were held up twice over the try line, and earned three penalties, before Braydon Ennor crossed near the posts, after a lovely delayed pass from Tim Bateman.

Ennor continues to turn heads, and the try was his 10th of the season.

The pattern of play suggested a one sided affair, but Auckland were quick to respond.

Akira Ioane found some open space, and a couple of offloads led to Vince Aso crossing in the 11th minute.

Despite Canterbury dominating territory, Auckland were up for the contest, showing the kind of fight and tenacity that has been absent on too many occasions this season.

Knowing they couldn't match Canterbury with a structured approach, they went lateral as often as they could and found holes in the defence.

The first half was a scrappy affair, with Canterbury in particular guilty of some uncharacteristic errors, while Auckland seemed to grow in confidence as the match wore on.

The visitors regained the lead again, after fullback Caleb Makene, making his first start, sniped over from close range.

But they couldn't accelerate away, they couldn't shake Auckland off.

The home side gained due reward for their resilience right on halftime, after a Jono Hickey penalty took them back into the lead.

The two teams traded tries early in the second half, with replacement Canterbury halfback Jack Stratton forcing his way over after Auckland gave up a turnover five metres from their line.

Again, Auckland's reply was instant, with Joe Ravouvou bringing back memories of some other great Fijian wingers at Eden Park, as he powered his way over from 40 metres, following a lineout move.

At this point Canterbury's reinforcements - they had rested several front liners from the start - began to make an impact.

They started to dominate at set piece, and gradually squeezed the life out of Auckland.

Stratton's second try, which had a hint of a double movement but was declared legal, gave Canterbury some breathing space for the first time in the match.

TJ Faiane's last gasp try gave Auckland hope, but they eventually ran out of time.

Auckland 27 (V Aso, J Ravouvou, T Faiane tries; J Hickey 3 cons, 2 pens).

Canterbury 32 (B Ennor, C Makene, J Stratton 2 tries R Mo'unga 3 cons, 2 pens).