Wellington have sent the message to the rest of the Mitre 10 Cup – it’s a bad idea to wake a sleeping lion.
The beaten finalist from a year ago, Wellington’s season started in poor fashion with a demolition at the hands of Waikato in the opening round.
When they travelled to Eden Park to meet Auckland, who had a comfortable win over Otago in their opening match, things looked like they might finish in familiar fashion.
Auckland went up 7-0 inside the first five minutes after a try to hooker Leni Apisai from the back of a close-range lineout drive and dominated the early possession. However, an opportune try to Wellington second five-eighth Vince Aso against the run of play set the wheels in motion for an impressive 39-21 Wellington win.
Aso pounced on a loose offload around the halfway mark, taking the ball on the blindside, tip-toeing along the sideline before going in for his side’s first try.
While Auckland had the upper hand across the board, from there, Wellington took control on the scoreboard.
As strange as it is to think the team with just 46 per cent of the ball could be in control, Wellington defended well then picked their spots in the Auckland defensive line.
On the back of a solid in-play kicking game from Jackson Garden-Bachop, in addition to some well executed set pieces, Wellington soon found themselves with a healthy 22-7 lead after tries to right winger Wes Goosen, centre Peter Umaga-Jensen and fullback Billy Proctor.
Auckland hit back late in the half through halfback Jonathan Ruru, who dove over from close range, but weren’t able to close out the half strongly as Wellington slipped in a fourth try through left winger Pepesana Patafilo.
Wellington were making things look very easy inside the opposition 22, and the 29-14 halftime score line showed it.
Auckland continued to ask questions of the Wellingtonians once the second half got underway, and were quickly rewarded through a try to left winger Caleb Clarke, closing the gap to eight points with 25 minutes to play.
Garden-Bachop gave Wellington a bit of breathing room with a 61st-minute penalty, and for a while it looked like he had secured three vital points.
Auckland continued their assault on the Wellington defensive line, forcing the visitors to make 50 more tackles than them through 63 minutes, but their lack of patience let them down deep in Wellington territory. No 8 Hoskins Sotutu came the closest to getting Auckland within striking distance, but knocked the ball on in trying to put it down.
Despite having to make more tackles, conceding more penalties and spending far less time in the opposition 22, Wellington made Auckland pay whenever given the opportunity, the last blow coming in the 73rd minute with Aso crossing for his second of the day to seal the 18-point win.
Earlier in the day, Otago were too strong for Manawat? in Palmerston North, running away with a 36-25 win.
The scoreline rather flattered the hosts, who trailed 36-8 with 13 minutes to go, before conceding two tries to Aaron Smith and another to Micaiah Torrance-Read.
Meanwhile, Hawke’s Bay bounced back from an opening round loss to Southland, dispatching Counties Manukau 31-17 in Napier.
Led by two first-half tries to halfback Brad Weber, the Magpies did the damage in the opening 40 minutes, with their 26-10 halftime lead proving too much for the visitors to match.
Wellington 39 (Vince Aso 2, Wes Goosen, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Billy Proctor, Pepesana Patafilo tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 3 cons, pen)
Auckland 21 (Leni Apisai, Jonathan Ruru, Caleb Clarke try; Harry Plummer 3 cons).
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