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Bulls snatch NPC win over Auckland

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 13/10/2016 Angelo Risso

Marty McKenzie of Taranaki © Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images Marty McKenzie of Taranaki Taranaki have earned a home NPC semi-final after claiming a last-gasp 35-32 win over Auckland in New Plymouth.

The Bulls, down to 14 men after Declan O'Donnell's 71st-minute sin-binning, went over from the scrum base through No.8 Toa Halafihi with just seconds remaining.

Halafihi's try was no more than the Bulls deserved after dominating the last 10 minutes and creating multiple opportunities with a man less.

"We kept going there, got ourselves in the area and the boys fronted," Bulls skipper Mitchell Crosswell said.

The win guarantees Taranaki a home semi-final next week, while two bonus points keep Auckland's finals hopes alive by a thread.

They will have to hope Counties Manukau and Tasman lose their matches against Canterbury and Southland respectively.

"We came out with a lot of desire, we wanted to make the playoffs but it's not in our hands anymore," Auckland blindside Steven Luatua said.

Auckland wasted no time getting in front at Yarrow Stadium, as fullback Melani Nanai crossed in the corner.

Young gun Rieko Ioane then scored his ninth try of the season when he took advantage of an overload on the left.

Taranaki quickly nabbed one try back when playmaker Marty McKenzie was played in by O'Donnell, before a McKenzie three-pointer and Seta Tamanivalu effort put the side in front as halftime neared.

However Ioane re-established his side's lead with a breakaway try in the final minute of the half to go into the break at 19-13.

Simon Hickey extended Auckland's lead to nine soon after the break with a penalty goal, but Bulls hooker Rhys Marshall closed the gap again soon after.

Auckland lock Scott Scrafton was then sin-binned in the 56th minute, before the sides traded penalty goals.

However, the Bulls finally put their noses in front with 13 minutes remaining when lock Ben Matwijow knocked down a Hickey punt and crossed the line.

Auckland were awarded a penalty try for an O'Donnell high challenge on Nanai as he looked to ground the ball, earning the 25-year-old a yellow card in the process.

But the Bulls could not be tamed, as a period of extended pressure resulted in Halafihi's winning try from a scrum.

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