NZ Herald

When it comes to the Mitre 10 Cup, expect the unexpected.

It’s been the theme of the national provincial competition this year, with big names falling to minnows, surprising blowouts and the Ranfurly Shield steadily making its way around the country. That theme continued today.

In Inglewood, Auckland snuck out with a 29-28 win over a Taranaki side which came into the match off the back of double-digit losses to Otago and Northland.

When Auckland winger Salesi Rayasi crossed the line in the first minute of the game, it looked like things might go the same way. But that would be too obvious a storyline.

Instead, after falling behind 5-0 early, Taranaki found their feet with fullback Jayson Potroz scoring 23 unanswered points – consisting of two tries, two conversions and three penalties – to give the hosts a handy lead after 25 minutes. While Taranaki had run over the top of Auckland after the opening try, the visitors closed the gap just before halftime when Jack Whetton crashed over from close range to make it a 23-12 game at the break.

Auckland opted to bring halfback Johnathan Ruru into the game at the break, and his influence was immediate. With two tries to AJ Lam soon after the restart, Auckland had closed the gap to just one point. Taranaki put a little bit of distance between the two sides again with 12 minutes to go when Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens crossed, but the missed conversion left the door ajar for Auckland, who crashed through it in the 75th minute through Rayasi. Simon Hickey’s conversion from right in front sailed through the sticks, and despite some late pressure from Taranaki, it was enough to close out the win.

Further south, the trend continued as Wellington were upset 35-34 at home by an Otago team who, a week ago, were unable to defend the Ranfurly Shield in Dunedin against Hawke’s Bay.

A 79th minute conversion from the boot of Josh Ioane, following a try to lock Jack Regan, was the difference in a back-and-forth affair.

Wellington held double-digit leads twice in the match, including an 11-point buffer with 18 minutes to play.

Elsewhere, North Harbour posted their second-straight win in a 46-10 demolition of Hawke’s Bay. North Harbour crossed for seven tries – including a first-half hat-trick to winger Jared Page. The win, their second of the season, lifts North Harbour off the bottom of the Premiership ladder.

In the final game of the day, a strong second half saw Waikato pull away from Counties Manukau, running away with a 36-13 win in Hamilton. Despite opening the scoring early with a try to winger Liam Coombes-Fabling, Waikato soon found themselves trailing after Counties fullback Etene Nanai-Seturo picked up a loose ball to score a runaway try.

However, a yellow card on the stroke of halftime to Counties prop Conan O’Donnell opened the door for Waikato to get ahead on the scoreboard. Waikato scored 17 points in the 10 minutes O’Donnell was off the park, which gave them the platform to press on with the win.

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This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission

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