Auckland bounced back from their disappointing loss to Waikato last week with a commanding 41-10 victory over Northland.
Despite the miserable conditions as driving rain pelted the Eden Park turf, the home side ran in six tries in a much improved performance to secure five points and move into second place on the ITM Cup Premiership ladder.
However the win may have come at a hefty cost with Auckland suffering a number of significant injuries ahead of their clash with front runners Canterbury next week.
“It was a big step up from the Waikato game in the areas we focussed on,” Auckland head coach Wayne Pivac said.
“One was our defence, getting our bodies down and our shoulders into contact, our line speed and wanting to do that over the 80 minutes and it was very pleasing to see that in the 80th minute we were still going forward and putting pressure on the Northland side," he said.
“It was also great to get a bonus point in those conditions. However the down side was the injury toll so we’ve got nine days to Canterbury and we’ll see how the boys scrub up but we’ll be busy on the weekend watching the Bs and Colts to see who stands up in those teams that we can call on.”
Lock Patrick Tuipulotu appears to have a broken jaw after copping a cheap shot from prop Bronson Murray in the closing stages of the game, Joe Edwards has a damaged shoulder and backs Hadleigh Parkes and Vince Aso both suffered leg injuries.
Livewire Blues centre Rene Ranger’s late withdrawal from the Northland side through injury coupled with miserable conditions at Eden Park looked like taking much of the excitement out of the fixture as both sides turned to the boot to secure territory in the wet.
Captain Hadleigh Parkes once again led from the front and scored the home side’s first try of the evening after 11 minutes, beating three defenders on his way to the line.
On the rain sodden ground there were few opportunities for Auckland to score but they made the most of them when they arose as wing Vince Aso went over in the corner on the half hour mark.
Flanker Sean Polwart latched onto a misdirected Northland lineout throw and made a fantastic run, barrelling first-five Daniel Hawkins out of the way to get within 10 metres of the line, before the ball was spun wide as Malakai Fekitoa sucked in the defence and fed Aso who slid over the whitewash.
However Auckland’s lead was cut short as the visitors scored a near length of the field try, their forwards and backs combining well from turnover ball as wing Mathew Right scored in the corner after the halftime hooter had sounded.
With Aso limping off before halftime and Parkes not returning from the sheds after the break, it forced a reshuffle to the backline as George Moala moved into centre to partner Fekitoa in the midfield as halfback Wayne Ngaluafe slotted onto the wing.
It didn’t seem to have much of an impact though as Moala brushed off his opposite number after a concerted build up by the forwards to score for Auckland eight minutes into the second stanza.
Halfback Piri Weepu was on song with his boot all night, and after slotting the conversion from the sideline, he then backed it up moments later with a fine penalty kick to edge Auckland ahead 24-7 after 50 minutes.
Hawkins soon hit back for Northland with a penalty kick of his own, before Hickey gave Auckland the bonus point try on the hour mark after breezing through a gaping hole in the Taniwha defence.
Fullback Lolagi Visinia went over in the corner after a lovely offload from Moala, before replacement prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi capped off a tremendous evening for Auckland with a try five minutes from fulltime.
Auckland 41 (Hadleigh Parkes, Vince Aso, George Moala, Simon Hickey, Lolagi Visinia, Ofa Tu'ungafasi tries; Piri Weepu pen, 4 cons), Northland 10 (Mathew Wright try; Daniel Hawkins pen, con). Ht: 14-7.