Rugby Union: Brooke drives Auckland through

Auckland continued their impressive defence of the Super 12 title with a storming 45-28 win over Otago in Dunedin yesterday.

They had to dig deep to maintain their unbeaten run in this year's competition, though, coming from 15-7 down at half-time to win thanks to a burst of three tries in four minutes midway through the second half

The wing Jeremy Stanley and the All Black lock Robin Brooke ran in two tries each and the scrum-half Junior Tonu'u, the Fijian international Joeli Vidiri and Lee Stensness also crossed the line.

The victory was the eighth in nine outings for Auckland, who are now certain of a semi-final place. They are nine points clear of Wellington, who beat New South Wales 19-3, and the Australian Capital Territory, who had the weekend off.

Wellington's win in Napier was their sixth in nine games, and was straightforward from the third minute when the All Black full-back Christian Cullen ran in a spectacular try from 80 metres. The back-row forward Martin Leslie and wing Jason O'Halloran also scored tries while Cullen kicked two conversions. New South Wales' only points came from a penalty from their full-back Matthew Burke. The Waratahs have won only three of their nine Super 12 matches and this was the third time in a row in which they have failed to score a try.

Natal and the Gauteng Lions (formerly Transvaal) both suffered away defeats but one of the pair of South African teams is likely to take the fourth semi- final spot. Natal have 27 points from nine games and Gauteng 22.

Natal were appallingly error-prone in the 40-3 defeat at Ballymore which lifted Queensland off the bottom of the table. The South Africans actually took the lead in the 32nd minute through a Gavin Lawless penalty but were then powerless as Queensland moved into top gear. and ran in six tries without reply.

Gauteng fell to a 47-9 defeat by Waikato in Hamilton. The left-wing Caleb Ralph scored a pair of his team's five tries as the Chiefs dominated to score their first win for five games. Gauteng now have to beat Queensland and Natal in their final two games to stand any chance of a semi-final place. Ralph's scoring was backed up by tries from the No 8 Deon Muir and centre Scott McLeod, along with a penalty try.