Rugby: Auckland battle back to beat Bay of Plenty

Auckland's George Moala is caught by the Bay of Plenty defence. Photo Getty
Auckland's George Moala is caught by the Bay of Plenty defence. Photo Getty
Auckland coach Paul Feeney must be a master of the halftime team talk, though he probably wishes his oratory skills were less essential.

A second straight second-half revival this afternoon carried Auckland to a 27-12 victory over Bay of Plenty and into third spot in the ITM Cup Premiership.

Auckland endured another nightmare of an opening stanza, heading to the sheds fortunate to be only 12 points in arrears, but a pair of tries from Lolagi Visinia inspired another revival in the final 40 minutes.

It was a similar story a week ago when Wellington blew a 30-6 lead to leave Auckland one-point victors. Today's match in Rotorua never threatened to produce that type of drama, with Bay of Plenty being simply overrun after the break.

All the confidence the home side displayed in the first half quickly disappeared. Gone was the patient and probing attack that produced tries to Joe Royal and Johan Bardoul, replaced by an error-prone and ill-disciplined display.

In fairness, Auckland certainly played their part, as did a stiff wind that saw all 39 points scored down the same end. The visitors managed to put behind them a period when nothing went right, responding with aplomb to easily take the points required to remain in touch with the competition pace-setters.

That looked unlikely in an opening to the match that saw Auckland completely bereft of ideas. Bay of Plenty probably always wanted to turn the game into a battle of attrition and they managed to do exactly that, with good handling in wet conditions and fine link play seeing the phase count add up and Auckland tire.

With three times as many breakdowns as their opposition, Bay of Plenty were well deserving of their 12-0 halftime lead, with Royal's opener from a rolling maul coming only moments after the hooker let slip a chance to apply the finishing touch to a spectacular crossfield kick from Nick Evemy.

The Steamers' second was indicative of the control they exerted over proceedings, with wave after wave of steady attack eventually seeing Bardoul bust through a hole in a weary defence and win the race for the corner.

Auckland, meanwhile, were struggling to get out of second gear, stuck in an arm wrestle and unable to break free, their lack of imagination exemplified when Simon Hickey opted to put the ball out after the hooter and settle for the 12-point deficit.

But whatever Feeney said at halftime had the desired effect, with Gareth Anscombe shaking off a pair of early misses to break his side's duck and, from the resulting kick off, Lolagi Visinia showing speed and an outstanding step to launch a spectacular raid down the left touchline.

Another Anscombe penalty saw Auckland snatch their first lead with just six minutes having elapsed in the second spell, leaving Bay of Plenty desperate to stem the bleeding. Instead, though, their horror half continued when Visinia slid over for his second to all but seal their victory of the season.

Auckland 27 (L. Visinia 2 tries; G. Anscombe 5 pens, con), Bay of Plenty 12 (J. Royal, J. Bardoul tries; N. Evemy con). HT: 12-0.

 - Kris Shannon of APNZ

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