Rugby: Unbeaten Waikato control Auckland to take charge of NPC

Te Paea Cook-Savage of Waikato runs in a try against Auckland. Photo / Getty

Waikato 30
Auckland 15

Waikato have extended their unbeaten start to the NPC season with a commanding victory over Auckland in Hamilton tonight.

The defending champions are the only side in the competition yet to taste defeat this season and they showed why with a performance of equal parts control and flair.

Auckland would have been hurting after last week’s historic loss to Northland but they were never allowed the chance to soothe those wounds as Waikato emerged on top in this rivalry for the first time since 2017.

The home side dictated play throughout, especially once they had built a lead through their electric outside backs, and not even the returning Roger Tuivasa-Sheck could spark an Auckland side whose lack of a cutting edge was exposed by their opponents.

“When we strung a few phases together, I thought we started to look really good,” Waikato captain Mitch Jacobsen told Sky Sport. “We started to capitalize on a few breaks and a few offloads started sticking.

“We’ve got some electric players out there and I was really stoked with how our backs finished. They’ve got good feet, they’re hard to tackle and they get that offload for second-phase ball.”

Their back three in particular stood out in the first half, causing Auckland to miss 21 tackles while scoring two tries and being possibly unfortunate to be denied a third.

The hosts built well from an advantage at the set piece and thrived in both structured and especially open play, with the outside backs at times running amok.

Left winger Daniel Sinkinson grabbed the game’s first try, set up well by Rhys Marshall after some patient play inside the opposition 22.

Right winger Liam Coombes-Fabling thought he had scored a fine individual try for Waikato’s second, but his elusive footwork proved in vain after Liam Messam was spotted obstructing a potential tackler.

But fullback Te Paea Cook-Savage eventually did cross for his side’s second try, sending Waikato to halftime with a 17-10 lead after being put through a hole by Xavier Roe.

The back three weren’t flawless, though, and Coombes-Fabling spilling a kickoff created the opening for Auckland to score their solitary try of the first half, one seized when Tuivasa-Sheck slipped past Messam and released Jordan Trainor.

It was a moment that illustrated the All Black’s undoubted threat, but one too rare for Auckland’s liking as both Tuivasa-Sheck and the dangerous Salesi Rayasi enjoyed too little ball.

That problem only worsened in the second half, one that Waikato controlled without really being required to extend themselves.

With an edge in possession and increasing their lead through a couple of Damian McKenzie penalties, they weren’t fazed even when the first five-eighth was charged down by Harry Plummer as Auckland sniffed a rare opening.

But that chance was immediately snuffed out as Waikato recovered possession from the subsequent kickoff, with McKenzie’s kick evading Taufa Funaki and allowing Patrick McCurran to put the hosts firmly in control.

Waikato 30 (Daniel Sinkinson, Te Paea Cook-Savage, Patrick McCurran tries; Damian McKenzie 3 pens, 3 cons)
Auckland 15 (Jordan Trainor, Harry Plummer tries; Harry Plummer pen, con)
Halftime: 17-10