Some belated class from Auckland’s big hitters lock Patrick Tuipulotu and the dynamic brothers, flanker Akira Ioane and centre Rieko provided a 51-16 win over Southland in perfect conditions in Invercargill on Friday.
Auckland took a long time to put the home team away but when the hammer went down it resulted in four tries in the last 10 minutes to blow the score out.
It took Southland to lose two men to the sin-bin within minutes of each other with firstly second five-eighths Keiron Moffatt and then first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga for Auckland to finally take control of the game.
Southland had been scrapping and battling to unsettle an Auckland team which at times was guilty of individuality rather than teamwork but falling foul of referee Kane McBride at the tackle in the 22m area they paid the price.
From the resulting scrum the ball was moved to wing Joesave Ravouvou who was unchallenged in scoring, although it took a consultation with the TMO to ensure that Auckland hadn’t thrown Ravouvou a forward pass.
But Southland playing with 13 men took the game back to Auckland and some stunning forward driving resulted in a penalty from which Southland took the scrum, won the ball, moved it to midfield where halfback Jimmy Cowan burst through the middle and touched down to get Southland back to within seven points.
Auckland put paid to that when lock Patrick Tuipulotu scored in the 70th minute when getting the ball from a ruck play and driving impressively over beneath the posts to score.
That was followed by a breakout from the Auckland 22m area by Akira Ioane who showed his outstanding speed to beat tackles and then lay off the perfect inpass to wing Pryor Collier who scored.
And then not to be left out of the action Rieko Ioane was put into space after the restart and he too, cleared out to score his second try of the night. The final act came when replacement hooker Kurt Eklund made use of an overthrown Southland lineout on their goal-line to push the score beyond 50.
For most of the first half Auckland were unable to break the home shackles, in spite of plenty of ball during the first half. But it was the inability to build a platform with which to use that to advantage. And in their best period on attack, midway through the second spell, they were only able to land penalty goals as the home team were able to keep the defensive pressure on.
Auckland looked best when attempting to drive from close positions to the ruck, rather than wider, and the ability to break the tackles in close suggested that was the way to go in the second half.
The loss of Steven Luatua to a twisted ankle early in the game did not help and it was left to flanker Ioane to attempt to take the ball up more often.
Southland were well served by international inside-back combination of Cowan and Sopoaga. Cowan showed his experience in placing some deft kicks into open territory while Sopoaga, in the occasions were the play freed up, showed his best touches, running the ball into space himself and creating once lovely chance with a soft kick over the Auckland defence which allowed Collier to run onto the ball and carry play towards the Auckland goal-line.
With their greater strength Auckland were able to hold Southland ball carriers up to create mauls which more than once got them out of difficult situations.
However, straight after the start of the second half an attempted long pass by Sopoaga, who had moved out to second receiver from a lineout, missed its mark and was intercepted by Rieko Ioane with open spaces to the goal-line to score the first try of the game.
SOUTHLAND – 16
Tries: Jimmy Cowan (65)
Penalties: Lima Sopoaga (8,36,47)
Cons: Jaye Thompson-Te Muunu (65)
AUCKLAND – 51
Tries: Rieko Ioane (40,75), Joe Ravouvou (60), Patrick Tuipulotu (70), Pryor Collier (72), Kurt Eklund (79)
Penalties: Simon Hickey (17,24,30,60)
Cons: Simon Hickey (42,71,73,75) Jono Hickey (80)