It was billed as the match of the round - Auckland hosting Tasman in a battle for outright supremacy of the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership ladder. Two unbeaten teams enter, one leaves with a loss to their name.
From all accounts, a gripping game of quality rugby should have unfolded from the opening whistle at Eden Park. Instead, Auckland triumphed 36-10 in what was a concoction of hilarity and errors – mostly from the visitors.
Auckland No.10 Harry Plummer scuffed a kick from right in front and 10 metres out from the sticks when the ball fell off the tee just before Plummer got his boot to it. His counterpart Mitchell Hunt gifted Melani Nanai a try when he slipped trying to clean up the ball on his own goalline. Patrick Tuipulotu scored a hat-trick in the first half of his first game of footy since May 11. And, to cap things off, no points were scored in the second half until inside the last five minutes.
After starting the season as the most impressive side through the opening weeks, Tasman began with a bang to run out to an early 10 point lead, capped by a strong try to loose forward Ethan Blackadder. From there, the trajectory of the match took a steep, steep drop for the visitors.
As Tasman stalled with ball in hand and constantly coughed it up, Auckland turned on the jets. Tuipulotu scored two tries in quick succession – one a stellar solo effort from distance – before Nanai pounced on the gift left behind by Tasman's Hunt.
Tuipulotu scored again from close range to end the first half, which saw Auckland go ahead 29-10 with a bonus point already to their name.
It was more of a contest in the second 40 minutes, though not the exciting one fans had anticipated. Neither side could capitalise when the opportunity presented itself; the combined 41 turnovers in the match a sign of how stagnant play was.
Akira Ioane's 75th minute try breathed some life into the dying embers of the match, doing nothing but rubbing salt in the gushing wound of the downtrodden Tasman outfit.
Auckland go four points clear at the top of the Premiership table after four matches, while Tasman settle in to third behind Canterbury.
Earlier in the night, Otago protected their home turf from the attack of the Taniwha, toppling Northland 27-23 in Dunedin, having to come from behind twice to do so. The sides ran in three tries apiece in the armwrestle at Forsyth Barr Stadium, but the boot of Josh Ioane proved to be the difference, with a 75th minute penalty setting up the slim win. Otago took their second win in four games, while Northland have just a solitary win from four outings.
Auckland 36 (Patrick Tuipulotu 3, Melani Nanai, Akira Ioane tries; Harry Plummer 4 cons, pen)
Tasman 10 (Ethan Blackadder try; Mitchell Hunt con, pen)