Tuipulotu hat-trick takes Auckland to top of table

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Lynn McConnell     07 Sep 2018     Getty Images

The All Black lock who has been through a string of career frustrations in recent seasons returned to Auckland's Mitre 10 Cup team to score a first half hat-trick of tries en route to a table-topping 36–10 win over Tasman at Eden Park on Friday.

Showing a hunger that has been lacking for more seasons than Auckland fans care to remember, the home side ended Tasman's unbeaten run by applying rare pressure, especially at the breakdown, which unsettled them in securing a bonus point win.

That pressure was never more evident than in the 36th minute try scored by wing Melani Nanai.

Making a routine chase from a kick deep into Tasman's 22m area, Nanai could scarcely believe his luck when covering defender, first five-eighths Mitchell Hunt looked to have everything covered, only to get his feet in the wrong position, and nudge the ball over the goalline where all Nanai had to do was drop on the ball.

It would have been recoverable in a close game, but it took Auckland out to a 22-6 lead.

Worse was to follow after the halftime hooter had sounded when Auckland rushed into the 22m area again and with a series of surges at the line, No.8 Akira Ioane played halfback and passed to Tuipulotu, standing off on the blindside of the ruck, to cross for his third try.

Earlier, Auckland had responded, almost immediately to the opening try of the game scored by Tasman No.8 Ethan Blackadder who followed a sniping break by halfback Finlay Christie and took a support pass almost from behind his back, to charge ahead for the line.

Then two minutes later from a kick through by halfback Jonathan Ruru second five-eighths TJ Faiane chased through and after flanker Blake Gibson had a go for the line, it was Tuipulotu who took the ball and drove over under the posts.

From the restart in the 30th minute first five-eighths Harry Plummer lobbed a high mid-field kick that rebounded off a Tasman defender for Tuipulotu to secure the ball, break the first line of defence and find himself in open space and 40m from the line. He made no race of it to score his second.

Pressure in the second half saw key opportunities lost by Tasman during a dominant third quarter where sheer doggedness in defence brought its reward with turnover after turnover allowing Auckland to turn the ball around. They looked to try and get danger man wing Solomon Alaimalo into action while big centre Levi Aumua was brought into the action in the second half and while he created momentum, Tasman were unable to build on it.

Home captain and flanker Blake Gibson had a big role to play in the defensive effort, and was a constant support when breaks were made. He had good support from 24-Test Canadian international Evan Olmstead while No.8 Akira Ioane was a constant danger as he showed when breaking the second half deadlock with a 75th minute try from a miscued pass when Tasman wing Tima Faingaanuku let the ball go only to see it picked up by replacement Auckland back Leon Fukofuka, who fed Ioane and with a try in the offing he made no mistake.

Duane Monkley Medal points: Patrick Tuipulotu 3, Melani Nanai 2, Blake Gibson 1.

Scorers: Auckland 36 (Patrick Tuipulotu 3, Melani Nanai, Akira Ioane tries; Harry Plummer, 4 con, pen) Tasman 10 (Ethan Blackadder tries; Mitchell Hunt con, pen). HT: 29-10