Simon Hickey celebrated his milestone provincial match with two tries as Auckland responded from last week’s deflating defeat to trounce Manawatu 50-12 at a deserted Eden Park.
Hickey’s half century has been a long time coming. The diminutive playmaker is back in the blue and white hoops after five years in the Northern Hemisphere, where he spent time in France and Scotland.
Hickey has signed to play for the Hurricanes next season but on Sunday afternoon, in front of fewer than 100 supporters, the 26-year-old showed his poise to regularly challenge the line, deliver try assists and calmly direct Auckland to a win that was never in doubt.
In the eight-tries-to-two romp Hickey helped spark Auckland’s potent attacking ability to collect 22 points and steer Alama Ieremia’s side to a 16th successive victory over Manawatu, who remain winless this season.
Auckland squandered a number of try-scoring chances through impatience and individual white line fever in the first half in particular but their second victory from three attempts is a step in the right direction following last week’s 34-15 home defeat to Wellington.
It also came in a different context, with the bulk of the All Blacks no longer available for provincial duties.
Auckland were vastly improved from last week’s effort against Wellington – far more committed defensively while their dominant scrum set the platform for the backline to run rampant. They will, however, face much tougher tests this season.
Enjoying front-foot ball throughout dynamic wings AJ Lam, who claimed two tries, and Salesi Rayasi impressed on the edges. All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu delivered a telling cameo off the bench in the second half.
Four first-half tries – to Lam, Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa, Hickey and Rayasi – pushed Auckland out to a commanding 26-5 halftime advantage after they made the most of a big breeze in the first spell.
Manawatu did not help their cause, conceding two yellow cards in the first half. Lock Paulo Teofilo was fortunate not to cop a red card after he flattened Jordan Trainor with what appeared a shoulder to the head after the Auckland fullback spilt the ball in the ninth minute. Referee Dan Waenga deemed Trainor’s ducking motion saved Teofilo from being sent off.
Loosehead prop Tietie Tuimauga received the second yellow card for repeat scrum infringements but wing Adam Boult pulled off a superb finish to claim Manawatu’s first try while the visitors were reduced to 13 men.
Once restored to their full contingent Manawatu managed to claim the final try but, on this occasion, they were never in the same league.
Auckland 50 (AJ Lam 2, Simon Hickey 2, Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa, Salesi Rayasi, Blake Gibson, Jordan Trainor tries; Hickey 5 cons)
Manawatu 12 (Adam Boult, Sam Stewart tries; B Wyness con)