Taranaki 35
Auckland 32

For much of this very open Premiership clash in New Plymouth, it appeared that Auckland would have just enough class to keep their semifinal hopes alive.

But those hopes were dashed on a rugged second half by Taranaki, who fought fire with fire and reeled off some key plays, including a chargedown try to lock Ben Matwijow off a Simon Hickey clearance and a clinical lineout driven try to hooker Rhys Marshall.

Then came a huge call from referee Shane McDermott, who binned Taranaki wing Declan O'Donnell for a high shot on Melani Nanai and awarded a penalty try for Auckland to regain the lead.


But then came another twist, with No 8 Toa Halafihi blasting over from a scrum in the 79th minute for the precious victory.

Prominent for Auckland were locks Michael Fatialofa and Scott Scrafton. The former had his best game since winning the Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes.

The latter's output, despite a yellow card, was indicative of the steelier attitude Auckland brought to the forward exchanges after a passive display against Tasman.

Their defence through the middle was mostly solid, and it allowed the likes of fullback Melani Nanai and centre Rieko Ioane, who scored three tries between them, to cut some merry capers. Ioane now has 10 tries, and leads the Mitre 10 Cup five-pointer tally.

Taranaki would not submit, and in centre Seta Tamanivalu, they had a potent attacker, who embarrassed Ioane the Younger on one occasion for his try. Marshall's lineout throwing was on the mark. But the home side's defence was exposed at times.

All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Waisake Naholo were on hand at Yarrow Stadium to lend moral support to their province.

The upshot is that Auckland's two points carry them into third position on the ladder, but facing a nervous wait for the weekend's games featuring Counties Manukau and Tasman. Taranaki have a guaranteed home semifinal.

Taranaki 35 (Marty McKenzie, Seta Tamanivalu, Rhys Marshall, Ben Matwijow, Toa Halafihi tries; McKenzie 2 con, 2 pen) Auckland 32 (Rieko Ioane 2, Melani Nanai tries, penalty try; Simon Hickey 3 con, 2 pen) HT: 19-13 Auckland