A 14-man Tasman have clung on to again get the better of Auckland in their NPC final rematch in Nelson on Saturday.
Having edged last year’s Premiership decider at Eden Park 13-12, this round-two clash was similarly knife-edge stuff, with the Mako coming from behind to prevail 16-11, as replacement prop Ryan Coxon came up trumps with an 84th minute turnover penalty win.
With Tasman lock Pari Pari Parkinson in the sin bin after a collapsed maul not long earlier, Auckland had another golden chance to sneak at least a share of the points at Trafalgar Park, but in the end were made to rue a scoreless second half, as fullback Salesi Rayasi went from hero to zero.
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Leicester Fainga'anuku goes in for the decisive score as Tasman beat Auckland in Nelson.
Trailing 11-6 at the break, Tasman dominated the second stanza, but for a long time just couldn’t transfer that onto the scoreboard.
Co-captain Mitch Hunt sliced two penalty goal attempts to the right of the posts then Mark Telea bombed a certain try in the 57th minute when he shelled the final pass with the line open.
While advantage was being applied during that play, Hunt was able to knock over a simple three to narrow the margin, though five minutes later had a chance to put his side in front but shanked left.
However, the huge turning point came in the 67th minute, with Rayasi strolling back to collect a kick on his own goal-line, only to slip and knock on.
From the ensuing scrum, No 8 Shannon Frizell shimmied right and popped a pass for Leicester Fainga’anuku – menacing and likely all day – to crash over to put the home side ahead for the first time in the game.
Auckland had a great opportunity to hit back with five minutes left, with Tasman warned for ill-discipline, but were then free-kicked from the lineout, before then also coming up short in their last-gasp 11-phase attack, ended by Coxon’s fine work over the ball in what was a super cameo off the bench.
Earlier, it had been Auckland making the better of things, after an extended feeling-out period, where neither side really seized the initiative, thanks to plenty of kicking from hand that wasn’t always on point, and some fairly ordinary lineout operation.
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Auckland fullback Salesi Rayasi went over for the game’s first try, but made a big blunder later.
An eighth-minute penalty goal to skipper Harry Plummer was matched by Hunt in the 25th minute, before Plummer put the visitors ahead again nine minutes before the break.
It’s not like proceedings were without try-scoring chances, with likely moments just being let down by a stray final pass. But come the 33rd minute the game did indeed have a five-pointer.
Set up by a brilliant 50-22 kick by Bryce Heem, which bounced unkindly for Fainga'anuku, Auckland capitalised on the golden attacking opportunity, with Rayasi strongly spinning his way over.
The visitors’ eight-point advantage really should have been five points bigger, but Plummer shockingly bounced his conversion attempt off the upright, then soon later missed a penalty from handy position, too.
Then, in a close-range attack after the siren, it looked like the Mako may slash the deficit, though in the end had to be content with another Hunt penalty goal.
AT A GLANCE
Tasman 16 (Leicester Fainga'anuku try; Mitch Hunt con, 3 pen) Auckland 11 (Salesi Rayasi try; Harry Plummer 2 pen). HT: 6-11.
Stuff MVP points: Leicester Fainga'anuku 3, Ryan Coxon 2, Solomone Kata 1.