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Auckland came back from a seemingly perilous position to draw 34-34 with Hawke's Bay in an end-to-end ITM Cup match in Auckland tonight.
Hawke's Bay looked to have sealed all five points when flanker Trent Boswell-Williams and wing Sinoti Sinoti crossed early in the second half to push the visitors out to a 31-16 lead, but Auckland surged back to level the match at 31-31, then again at 34-34 when first five eighth Matt Berquist nailed his fifth penalty with three minutes remaining.
Hawke's Bay fullback Israel Dagg watched in despair as his late dropped goal hit the post and the pressure got to wing Mark Jackman, who had otherwise impressed with his goalkicking, when his penalty attempt after time was up missed wide.
The three points was of scant consolation to Hawke's Bay. They move up a spot to 10th but they needed maximum points to improve their top seven chances.
Auckland, meanwhile, started the 10th round in sole possession of third but now share that position with Bay of Plenty.
The home team started promisingly enough and were rewarded for their early patience with a try to captain Daniel Braid after they exposed Hawke's Bay's defence around the ruck.
Braid received an inside pass from halfback Toby Morland and scythed through a yawning gap before sprinting 20m to score next to the posts.
But Braid's joy lasted all of a minute.
From the restart the former All Blacks flanker spilled the ball into the grateful arms of Hawke's Bay first five-eighth Kahn Fotuali'i, who found centre Jason Shoemark on the outside and the captain had a clear run to the line to level the scores.
That appeared to ignite Hawke's Bay, who had foundered for much of the season but attacked with vigour and precision at Eden Park tonight.
Jackman crossed for their second try before halftime when he finished off a wonderful flowing backline move which saw Fotuali'i and Dagg feature prominently.
Hawke's Bay led 17-13 at halftime and looked to have sealed the points when they stretched out to 31-16, but Auckland started throwing the ball around to good effect.
Tries to Winston Stanley and Braid, his second for the night, alongside Berquist's reliable boot saw them draw level at 31-31 with 12 minutes remaining.
Both teams had chances in the final minutes but Hawke's Bay would have felt more aggrieved, having missed two late kicks and thrown away a comfortable lead.
Auckland 34 (Daniel Braid 2, Winston Stanley tries; Matt Berquist 5 pen, 2 con) Hawke's Bay 34 (Jason Shoemark, Mark Jackman, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Sinoti Sinoti tries; Mark Jackman 2 pen, 4 con) Halftime: 13-17.