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Waikato edge Auckland in thriller

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Sevu Reece of Waikato fends off Greg Pleasants-Tate of Auckland during the round four Mitre 10 Cup match between Auckland and Waikato at Eden Park on September 11, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – SEPTEMBER 11: Sevu Reece of Waikato fends off Greg Pleasants-Tate of Auckland during the round four Mitre 10 Cup match between Auckland and Waikato at Eden Park on September 11, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Waikato have made it three Mitre10 Cup wins in a row with a thrilling 35-32 win over traditional rivals Auckland at Eden Park.

After two hard fought Ranfurly Shield defences, Waikato made it clear from the outset that they wanted to play an expansive game as they rushed to a 15-0 lead after just 15 minutes through tries to prop Loni Uhila and 19-year-old wing Sevu Reece.

Boosted by an All Blacks 9-10 combination of Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Damian McKenzie, Waikato looked to play the game at pace against an Auckland team fatigued from a four-day turnaround from their last match.

There was a sense that Waikato could pile on more points until prop Loni Unhila was yellow-carded for an infringement close to the line. In the ten minutes Uhila was off the field, Auckland crossed for two tries to make it 15-12.

The first try was to promising openside flanker Blake Gibson in his first match for Auckland since 2015 while Akira Ioane set up Greg Pleasents-Tate for the second. Auckland first five Simon Hickey rounded out the half with a long range penalty to square up the game 15-15 at the break.

Auckland struck first in the second half through another Simon Hickey penalty but then quickly lost the rhythm it took them so long to find in the first half. With Waikato not competing at the breakdown and forcing errors through their well-organised defence, Auckland crumbled as wing Illiesa Ratuva crossed for a quick double to make it 35-18.

With just ten minutes left to play, Auckland charged back into the game just like they did when Uhila was off the field in the first half.

The Ioane brothers and Patrick Tuipulotu punched holes in the Waikato defence to put Auckland on attack. Gibson benefited from the weight of possession when he crossed for a double before Tuipulotu was rewarded for a powerful performance with a try to set up a grandstand finish.

With time up on the clock, it looked like Auckland would steal the match but the Waikato defence held firm to secure a memorable win.

The bonus point win vaulted Waikato into third place while Auckland’s has moved ahead of Taranaki into second place courtesy of two vital bonus points.

Both teams now have a week break before crunch games next Sunday. Waikato face their sternest Ranfurly Shield challenge yet against Taranaki while Auckland square off with neighbours Counties Manukau.

Scorers:

AUCKLAND – 32
Tries: Blake Gibson (29,71),Greg Pleasants-Tate (33),Patrick Tuipulotu (76)
Penalties: Simon Hickey (40,49)
Cons: Simon Hickey (30,72,76)

WAIKATO – 35
Tries: Loni Uhila (3),Sevu Reece (14),Epalahame Faiva (53),Iliesa Ratuva (62,68)
Penalties: Damian McKenzie (13,52)
Cons: Damian McKenzie (5,64)

HT: 15-15


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