Danny Cipriani endured another chastening experience in the Super 15 yesterday as his defensive frailties were again exposed, this time by Auckland Blues.
The England No 10 kept his Melbourne Rebels side in touch with the hosts through his kicking for much of the game but he also made key mistakes to ease the Blues' route to victory.
For all Cipriani's problems, it was the centre Jared Payne who scored a 75th-minute try to ensure the Blues cemented victory at North Harbour Stadium in Albany, New Zealand. Earlier, the Blues had rushed out to a 17-3 lead midway through the first half and were running rampant before letting the Rebels back into the game with a string of errors.
Payne's try only really sealed victory after the Rebels had hung in through Cipriani's boot. Rene Ranger grabbed two tries, while fellow winger Joe Rokocoko, centre Benson Stanley and open-side flanker Luke Braid all scored tries.
Fly-half Stephen Brett added two penalties and a conversion for the home side, while Luke McAlister converted Braid's late try.
The Rebels stayed in the game by feeding off Auckland mistakes, with tries to the wingers Cooper Vuna and Lachlan Turner and Cipriani slotting home two conversions and three penalties.
Cipriani, whose defensive weaknesses have been exposed in recent weeks, made crucial errors in the first half that led to two of the Blues' tries but kept his side within striking distance at half-time at 23-17 down.
Cipriani, however, then gifted Stanley the opening try of the second half when the Blues inside centre tackled Cipriani, stripped the ball, fended off Richard Kingi and Gareth Delve to score.
The Blues again failed to finish the game off, with Cipriani slotting two more penalties to give the visitors a chance of victory. Payne and Braid's late tries for the Blues may have exaggerated the scoreline, but the Blues captain, Keven Mealamu, said that they had almost been victims of their own downfall.
"Our execution wasn't sharp enough and ... we made mistakes, little errors, and in a game like this you need to build pressure," Mealamu said. "But those little errors when you turn the ball over to them, they were a team that really wanted to play today."
Auckland Blues: Tries: Ranger (2), Rokocoko, Stanley, Payne, Braid; Conversions: Brett, McAlister; Penalties Brett (2).
Melbourne Rebels: Tries: Vuna, Mitchell; Conversions: Cipriani (2); Penalties Cipriani (3).
Auckland Blues: Toeava; Rokocoko, Payne, Stanley, Ranger; Brett, Mathewson; Saili, Braid, Kaino, Williams, Boric, Afoa, Mealamu (c), Woodcock.
Melbourne Rebels: Kingi; Mitchell, Huxley, Mortlock, Vuna; Cipriani, Phipps; Blake, Robinson, Somerville, Campbell, Pyle, Saffy, Lipman, Delve.