The last time Canterbury came to Eden Park, they walked off dejected losers in last year’s thrilling Mitre 10 Cup final. This time it was a different story, as they ran out 32-22 winners on a wet Auckland afternoon.
The defending champions had no answer for Canterbury’s fast start, watching on as firstly Brett Cameron put them ahead with a penalty. Flanker Billy Harmon then picked off a pass and ran half the length of the field to put the red and blacks up 10-0 in as many minutes.
However, Auckland hit back through Akira Ioane, who used his immense power to crash over against the post. Harry Plummer added the conversion and a penalty to close the score up, but a try to Canterbury winger Dallas McLeod just on halftime gave them a 20-10 lead.
Harmon scored again to push the lead out, but a try to Blake Gibson and then a stunning effort by Salesi Rayasi pulled Auckland back within three points.
It seemed to be on for a stunning comeback with 10 minutes to go, but Canterbury halfback Ereatara Enari had other ideas when he took a quick tap and scored the crucial last try.
The result now puts Canterbury’s season back on track after three losses in a row.
Canterbury 32 (Billy Harmon 2, Dallas McLeod, Ereatara Enari tries; Brett Cameron 2 pen 2 con, Fergus Burke con)
Auckland 22 (Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Salesi Rayasi tries; Harry Plummer 2 con pen)
HT: 20-10 Canterbury
In contrast, North Harbour did manage to pull off a breathtaking comeback against Waikato at QBE Stadium last night. The Mooloos gave up a 17-point lead late in the game, with a try and sideline conversion to Matt McGahan stealing the win in the 80th minute.
North Harbour 38 (Mark Telea 2, Murphy Taramai, Luteru Tolai, James Little, Matt McGahan tries; McGahan 4 con)
Waikato 36 (Bailyn Sullivan, Samisoni Taukei'aho 2, Quinn Tupaea, Fletcher Smith tries; Smith 4 con, pen)
HT: 21-12 Waikato
Wellington ground out a less-than-memorable win over Bay of Plenty in Rotorua later on Saturday night, despite being outscored two tries to one. Jackson Garden-Bachop, who is effectively auditioning for next year’s Hurricanes first-five spot, got the Lions home with three penalties and a conversion.
Wellington 16 (Peter Umaga-Jensen try; Jackson Garden-Bachop con, 2 pen)
Bay of Plenty 15 (Richard Judd, Emoni Narawa tries; Dan Hollinshead con, pen)
HT: 10-9 BOP
And on Friday night the Tasman Mako rolled on in their impressive start to the season, thrashing Counties-Manukau 36-0 in Pukekohe.
Tasman 36 (Will Jordan 2, Finlay Christie, Samiuela Moli, Leicester Fainga'anuku tries; Mitch Hunt 3 con, pen, Tim O'Malley con)
Counties Manukau 0
HT: 24-0 Tasman