It turns out having a player sent to the sin bin late in a rugby game doesn't do you any favours. Who knew?
Wellington were made to pay for Mateaki Kafatolu's 69th minute yellow card against Auckland in Wellington last night, with a late surge giving the visitors a 29-24 win.
Kafatolu was shown a ticket to the sin bin for a lifting tackle. At the time, Wellington looked set to close out a match they probably deserved to win with a handy 24-17 lead.
But back to back tries to Salesi Rayasi and Jordan Trainor in the moments following the card gave Auckland the lead inside the final 10 minutes which they never relinquished. Trainor's effort was particularly memorable, as some scrambling passing play near their own goal line saw the ball go to ground, only to be picked up in the midfield for Trainor to be put into the clear.
It was a result that slipped through the fingers of the home side, who looked like the better side for 70 of the 80 minutes. Still susceptible at the scrum, they controlled possession and the territory battle so their vulnerability at the set piece didn't come into play in the opening 40. Two impressive solo efforts to Tumua Manu and TJ Faiane kept Auckland in the match, though Wellington looked comfortably in control.
With that said, Auckland probably should have been ahead at half time with two bombed tries to Rayasi, who failed to ground the ball after running away with an intercept, and Akira Ioane who knocked on trying to barge over the line from the back of a scrum.
The mistakes didn't prove costly for the Auckland side in the end, though it may have been a different story had they not had the numbers advantage late in the piece.
What makes the loss worse for Wellington is that it keeps North Harbour's playoff hopes alive. A win over Auckland would have likely secured the Wellingtonians a spot in the playoffs. However, taking only a bonus point, Wellington sit just five points ahead of North Harbour, who play Counties Manukau later in the round.
Auckland return to the top of the table with a three-point buffer over Tasman.
Auckland 29 (Tumua Manu, TJ Faiane, Salesi Rayasi, Jordan Trainor tries; Harry Plummer 3 cons, pen)
Wellington 24 (Galu Taufale, Ben Lam, Thomas Umaga-Jensen tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 3 cons, pen)