Auckland have fought off an improved Bay of Plenty side in the Mitre 10 Cup, clinging on for a 20-16 victory tonight.
A settled Auckland lineup were facing a five-day turnaround after a big win over Manawatū, and were challenged in Rotorua by a Bay of Plenty team that had improved from an unconvincing win over Southland and a comprehensive defeat to Wellington last weekend.
It was far from champagne rugby, but Auckland had two first-half tries from Salesi Rayasi to thank for their victory. The Hurricanes winger leapt high above Emoni Narawa to fetch a TJ Faiane cross-kick and score in the corner, before doubling his tally just before halftime after powering over the line from close range.
Otere Black kept the hosts in the game with three penalties to make it 17-9 at the break, and when Leroy Carter made the most of an Auckland mistake at the back to mop up and dot down, the Bay were back in it.
A Harry Plummer penalty put Auckland quickly back out to a more comfortable four-point margin with 23 minutes to play, and that's where the score remained, despite a late surge from Bay of Plenty after winning a penalty with a minute to go.
Through 11 resulting phases, the hosts fought within five metres of the Auckland line, but a counter-ruck pressured captain Aaron Carroll and he lost the ball, and with it, the chance of victory.
"We made it hard for ourselves, especially in the second half, but proud of the heart we showed," said Faiane.
"They're a tough team, I think they're unlucky with the results they're getting so far, but we knew these guys would be hungry and we just had to show up."
Carroll was left to lament a slow start, but kept a positive outlook.
"We're just not quite firing. That last 15 [minutes] we found our flair, that's a feeling I haven't felt with this side since last year, I'm looking forward to a bit more of that and I think we've got some pretty awesome things to come."
Auckland move into second on the Premiership ladder with 14 points, one behind leaders Tasman who play North Harbour on Sunday. Bay of Plenty pick up a bonus point but remain in sixth.
Tomorrow's matches see Counties Manukau take on Manawatū, Northland host Taranaki, and Canterbury battle Wellington.