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Auckland control powers first win

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Sportal.co.nz     23 Jul 2011     Getty Images

Despite playing their third game in eight days it was the visitors who dominated for most of the second spell, although they had to hold out a late charging Lions side to muscle their way to victory in awful wet, windy and cold conditions at Westpac Stadium.

Wellington, who were without halfback Piri Weepu after he was not released by All Blacks management, dominated the scrums but were not always able to take full advantage. They also earned a couple of line-out steals as well but again they failed to capitalise on them as they could not get any good field position in the second half until the final five minutes when Jeremy Thrush's converted try got them a solitary point for finishing within seven of their opponents.

The two teams traded tries in the first half with Nathan Hughes going over for Auckland in the 3rd minute and Dane Coles replying three minutes later for Wellington.

Lions pivot Lima Sopoaga and his Auckland opposite Gareth Anscombe also went toe-to-toe for much of the first half with both converting their team's try and nailing and missing a penalty each until Anscombe edged Auckland 13-10 ahead just before the break with a vital three-pointer.

The young Auckland first-five extended that lead with another penalty shortly after the restart but it was Charles Piutau's try in the 58th minute that was enough to clinch the much-needed win for the visitors.

Despite the awful conditions the match started with a hiss and a roar with Auckland taking just three minutes to score the game's opening try.

Wellington fullback Apoua Stewart had already had one nervous moment at the back under the high ball when his clearance kick was charged down.

From the resulting lineout in the Wellington 22 Auckland drove for the line and when prop Charlie Faumunia was stopped just short, blindside flanker Hughes picked up the ball and drove hard over the line and Anscombe added the extras.

Wellington's reply was swift. Alby Mathewson misjudged the wind and kicked out on the full giving the Lions an attacking lineout. Good ball off the top from lock Mark Reddish found its way to wing Julian Savea and his strong, direct run got the home side over the advantage line. After a series of pick and goes openside flanker Scott Fuglistaller was stopped a couple of metres out and Coles was there to gather the ball and power over.

Sopoaga kicked the conversion but missed a penalty attempt shortly afterwards.
The try galvanised the Lions and a couple of well-placed kicks caused some nervous moments for Anscombe and Brent Ward at the back.

The Auckland line-out also hit a rough patch with the Lions stealing a couple but they were unable to capitalise on the possession with halfback TJ Perenara kicking out on the full then another attack breaking down when the halfback's stab kick through went just too far for his team-mate to chase.

Midway through the first half momentum began to swing Auckland's way. Having soaked up the pressure in their own half they finally won a lineout in the Wellington 22 and a good drive and some strong direct running by the forwards almost resulted in a try for hooker Tom McCartney, but referee Glen Jackson ruled he had been held up short.

Auckland continued to hammer away at the Wellington line to no avail and when they won another five metre scrum the Wellington pack shunted their opposites backwards and a booming clearing kick by Sopoaga eventually cleared the danger for the home side.

Sopoaga then banged over a long-range penalty in the 27th minute to edge the Lions in front. But Anscombe replied four minutes later when Perenara was caught offside at a scrum.

The Auckland pivot saw another effort come back off the post from the halfway mark when Jacob Ellison dropped his bind in another scrum but on the stroke of half-time the young pivot made no mistake to put Auckland 13-10 up at the break.

The momentum was with Auckland from the start of the second half as Wellington were forced to defend wave after wave of attack.

It was inevitable that they would start to concede penalties at the breakdown and they did with Anscombe extending their lead to six points with another good penalty kick in the difficult conditions.

But the young pivot had a 55th minute attempt blown wide and saw a conversion shave the upright shortly afterwards when winger Piutau had gone over in the left-hand corner to give the visitors a 21-10 lead.

The try was set up by a good run from midfielder Hadleigh Parkes and a neat side-step by Joe Rokocoko to get around Lions wing Jason Woodward.

But just when Auckland looked like easing to a comfortable win, Wellington rallied and with five minutes to go another solid scrum set the platform for captain Thrush to barge his way over. Sopoaga's conversion got Wellington to within four points but that was close as they got.

Scorers:

Wellington: 17 (Dane Coles, Jeremy Thrush tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con, pen) Auckland 21 (Nathan Hughes, Charles Piutau tries; Gareth Anscombe con, 3 pen). HT: 10-13