Auckland picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after their midweek thrashing by Counties Manukau to assure themselves of an ITM Cup semi-finals berth in beating Northland 38-10 at Eden Park on Saturday.
They had to deal with a combative, but ultimately, under-powered Northland team who were out-muscled in the set pieces by an Auckland team which made good use of their returning All Blacks, especially wing Charles Piutau and flanker Steven Luatua.
However, once they survived a frustrating third quarter, they found their rhythm and scored three tries in 10 minutes to claim the vital bonus point that denied their Wednesday nemesis Counties Manukau a chance of making the semi-finals.
While Anscombe landed the opening penalty goal for the home team, Northland replied almost immediately when flanker Kara Pryor received an in-pass and charged through a hole to feed supporting prop WillGriff John who got over for Northland to claim a lead in the 10th minute.
After landing three penalty goals Anscombe found himself in the sin-bin after a deliberate knock-down of the ball as Northland mounted a stunning counter attack courtesy of flying Fijian wing Jone Macilai. Hawkins punished Auckland with a penalty goal to claim a 10-9 lead.
However, Northland infringed soon after and fullback Lolagi Visinia stepped up and blasted a low shot from 48m out to reclaim the lead.
Auckland’s forward power put the pressure on Northland for an extended period and after several scrums the ball was moved right and when it came back to the left, Anscombe, who had just returned from the sin-bin got across for the try.
Kara Pryor was an outstanding contributor for Northland in the loose while he had great support from Jack Ram and Dan Pryor. But the strength of the home pack made the difference at lineouts and scrums and Northland were left to picking off crumbs, of which there were probably too many for Auckland’s comfort. During the first half Macilai was always a threat, but a half-time summit meeting minimised his danger in the second half.
One breakout off a chargedown kick from second five-eighths TJ Faiane resulted in a spectacular breakout by Kara Pryor and Ram which had the Auckland defence scrambling. However, by resorting to their front five dominance Auckland were able to grind their way back down field.
Auckland struggled to find their momentum through the third quarter but good work on the flanks by flanker Steven Luatua and lock Liaki Moli, who was a consistent grafter all night, created a chance which wing Melani Nanai took.
Auckland moved the ball downfield and when centre Hadleigh Parkes went to ground Visinia was at the breakdown to pick up the ball and cross for the try. Soon after the choice of a lineout instead of a shot for goal resulted in hooker Tom McCartney crossing in the midst of a driving maul.
While the lack of propping resource resulted in golden oldies scrums being played for the last 15 minutes, it didn’t matter to Auckland who were able to secure their bonus point try to flanker Nepia Fox-Matamua after he was fed into a good position after clever work by Faiane in slipping the ball through the defences to Moli to keep it alive and provide Fox Matamua with his chance.
Scorers: Auckland 38 (Gareth Anscombe, Lolagi Visinia, Tom McCartney, Nepia Fox-Matamua tries: Anscombe 3 con, 3 pen; Visinia pen) Northland 10 (WillGriff John tries; Daniel Hawkins con, pen). HT: 10-19