TEAM OF THE WEEK: Pinetree and the Shield
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal looks at Round Two of New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
Every match this weekend began with a moving tribute and moment of silence for a rugby legend and all around good bloke, Colin 'Pinetree' Meads, who died last weekend at 81 years of age.
With the weather looking much better over the weekend, the skills were palpable and there was some fantastic footy on show, starting with the eight-try festival held in the far south.
Although Southland's defence was accurate, with an impressive 86 percent tackle success rate, their organisation wasn't ready for the constant Harbour onslaught and when their line broke, they leaked points.
The Stags began well, with a try to impressive centre Matthew Johnson, but it wasn't long before North Harbour's passes started sticking and, with a very one-sided second half, proved they deserved last year's promotion.
First up in the Friday double-feature was the Battle of the Bays. The Steamers came into the match of the back of an embarrassing defeat to Northland, while the Magpies were unconvincing in their victory over Southland.
Bay of Plenty came out strong with a slew of penalties in the visitors 22, leading to Magpies' tighthead Rakete-Stones being sent to the naughty boy chair for back-to-back lineout infringements.
Down 20-3 at half-time, Hawkes' Bay made a desperate fight back, but were parried away each time.
General Mike Delany set up his dangerous wings, Monty Ioane and Joe Webber, and they killed off any chance the Magpies had, leaving the tourists down 46-17 in the largest victory between the teams since 2008.
Waikato continued on from their rousing second-half against Taranaki last week, scoring 21 uncontested points against Counties Manukau in a first half rout.
Last week's hat-trick hero, Jordan Manihera, picked up an impressive brace to take an early lead at the top of the try-scoring table.
Starved of possession and territory due to some excellent direction from veterans Sam Christie and Dwayne Sweeney, the Steelers were unable to mount much of a comeback.
They did come close to securing a 4-try bonus point, but the solid Mooloo defence denied them anything to take back up State Highway One.
Wellington demonstrated their desire to be in the Premiership when they demolished a Taranaki side with an all All Blacks back three.
Marty McKenzie pulled out late but Charlie Ngatai was on hand to ably stepped in to fullback, scoring a try through a gaping midfield hole. Waisake Naholo joined the party in the second half and also picked up a try.
However, it was Wellington's under 20s players, hooker Asafo Aumua and scrumhalf Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, who stole the show with power and pace.
Consistently ticking over the score sheet, Wellington built a lead and never relinquished it, winning 42-26.
If the next match is remembered it will be as the dullest match of the year. Auckland beat Northland 10-8 ... and that's all that happened.
A yellow card for Under 20 wing Tima Faingaanuku due to his stray elbow when trying to charge down a kick left Tasman in a bad way.
The Makos were already 22-13 down against the rampaging Turbos, but the No.11's absence sparked a comeback with replacement Michael Green finishing off a fantastic scything run by another under 20s star, Will Jordan.
With Faingaanuku back, new Mako Jordan Taufua got ten minutes off for collapsing a maul and there was no more comeback.
Hamish Northcote found a gaping midfield hole on the stroke of fulltime to extend the score to 35-20.
The final game of the round was the first Ranfuly Shield match of the season proper. And on paper, it looked very one-sided.
Canterbury were packed with 11 regular Super Rugby starters (even with several first choice players out sick), Otago just 3.
Right from the kick off, there was the feeling of an upset in the air, and when Otago flyhalf, Josh Ioane, sliced through for the games' first try, that feeling got stronger.
Canterbury came back through powerful forward play and the Crusaders' No.9, No.10, No.12 of Drummond, Mo'unga and Rob Thompson.
Three quick Otago tries and the Razorbacks, with only five minutes remaining, looked like clinching the biggest victory of the young players' careers.
But Canterbury proved to be upset-proof, and replacement Jed Brown broke many Southerners' hearts by crashing over after a long patient build-up.
Score and scorers:
Southland20-45 North Harbour
Tries: Matthew Johnson, Liam Howley
Cons: Scott Eade 2
Pens: Ryan Tongia, Scott Eade
Tries: Matt Vaega 2, Tevita Li 2, Chris Eves, Shaun Stephenson
Cons: Bryn Gatland 2, Ben Volavola
Pens: Bryn Gatland 2, Ben Volavola
Bay of Plenty 46-17 Hawkes Bay
Bay of Plenty:
Tries: Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Lalakai Foketi, Joe Webber 2, Jesse Parete 2,
Cons: Mike Delany 4,Luke Campbell
Pens: Mike Delany 2
Tries: Marino Mikaele Tu'u, Ihaia West
Cons: Ihaia West 2
Penalty: Ihaia West
Waikato 33-21 Counties Manukau
Tries: Jordan Manihera 2, Bailyn Sullivan, James Tucker, Samisoni Taukei'aho
Cons: Dwayne Sweeney 3, Sam Christie
Tries: Stephen Donald, Augustine Pulu, Jonathan Taumateine
Cons: Baden Kerr 3
Wellington 42-26 Taranaki
Tries: Asafo Aumua 2, Ben Lam, Julian Savea, Regan Verney
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 3, Daniel Kirkpatrick
Pens: Jackson Garden-Bachop 3
Tries: Charlie Ngatai, Sean Wainui, Lachlan Boshier, Waisake Naholo
Cons: Stephen Perofeta 3
Auckland 10-8 Northland
Try: Kurt Eklund
Con: Jono Hickey
Pen: Jono Hickey
Try: Jone Macilai
Pen: Peter Breen
Manawatu 35-20 Tasman
Tries: Nick Crosswell, Kurt Baker, Hamish Prescott, Hamish Northcott
Cons: Otere Black 3
Pens: Otere Black 3
Tries: Alex Ainley, Michael Green
Cons: Mitch Hunt 2
Pens: Mitch Hunt 2
Canterbury 30-24 Otago
Tries: Ben Funnell, Mitchell Dunshea, Tim Bateman, Jed Brown
Cons: Richie Mo'unga 2
Pens: Richie Mo'unga 2
Tries: Josh Ioane, Mitchell Scott, Sam Anderson-Heather, Jona Nareki
Cons: Fletcher Smith 2
Team of the Week - Round Five:
15 - Will Jordan (Tasman):
The young fullback was certainly not error-free, but he was exciting when he got going, racking up a round-high 156 metres with ball in hand. Special mention to Kurt Baker (Manawatu) and late change Charlie Ngatai (Taranaki).
Bubbling Under: Shaun Stephenson (North Harbour)
14 - Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty):
There were few contenders for the right wing position and even if there were, Monty Ioane would have beaten them. He set up so many of his team's forays with defenders falling off him.
Bubbling Under: Julian Savea (Wellington)
13 - Matt Vaega (North Harbour):
Back to his blockbusting best against Southland. He was a very hard man to stop, picking up a double.
Bubbling Under: Sean Wainui (Taranaki)
12 - Rob Thompson (Canterbury)
In the middle 40 minutes of the game, Thompson made Otago's defence look like wet paper. Special mention to George Moala (Auckland).
Bubbling Under: Regan Verney (Wellington)
11 - Joe Webber (Bay of Plenty):
There were two fantastic left wings this week and it was very difficult to choose between them. Both scored two tries and set up another; both made several clean breaks and, unfortunately, both fluffed a try. Joe Webber takes the spot due to his significantly better defence. Tevita Nabura (Counties Manukau) gets a special Replacement of the Week award.
Bubbling Under: Tevita Li (North Harbour)
10 - Richie Mo'unga (Canterbury):
A Player of the Round performance from the Christchurch-born phenom. There were many outstanding displays by flyhalves this week, but Mo'unga stood above them all. Special mention to Sam Christie (Waikato), Otere Black (Manawatu) and Josh Ioane (Otago).
Bubbling Under: Mike Delany (Bay of Plenty)
9 - Pele Cowley (Waikato):
Multiple try assists and several excellent snipes from the Samoan international.
Bubbling Under: Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Wellington)
8 - Elliot Dixon (Southland):
A perfect display from the three-time All Black loosie. He stole two lineouts, broke multiple tackles and made all 16 of his tackle attempts count.
Bubbling Under: Dan Pryor (Northland)
7 - Connor Collett (North Harbour):
One of the go-to forwards for Harbour with a couple of penetrative runs. His almost perfect tackling, combined with the frustration he causes at breakdowns means he had a great day on defence.
Bubbling Under: Du'Plessis Kirifi (Wellington)
6 - Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki):
Another fantastic display from a loose forward in a losing team.
Bubbling Under: Phil Halder (Southland)
5 - Scott Scrafton (Auckland):
The Auckland locks were the one shining light in a dull affair. Scrafton made 19 tackles, 14 carries, won a breakdown steal and a lineout steal. Special mention to James Tucker (Waikato).
Bubbling Under: Justin Hemopo (Manawatu)
4 - Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland):
The giant discarded All Black is hungry to re-enter the fold. He made 12 tackles, 15 carries, plundered 2 breakdowns and was the go-to man at lineouts with 6 takes, including one against the throw.
Bubbling Under: Thomas Franklin (Bay of Plenty)
3 - Aki Seiuli (Otago):
Helped his side get one over the highly vaunted Canterbury pack, picking up a scrum against the feed while getting through a mountain of work around the track.
Bubbling Under: Alex Fidow (Wellington)
2 - Asafo Aumua (Wellington):
Another spectacular display from the up-and-coming hooker. He scored a brace, held his own against a very good Taranaki scrum and made all his tackles. His lineout needs a bit of work however.
Bubbling Under: James Parsons (North Harbour)
1 - Loni Uhila (Waikato):
A big welcome back to the Tongan Bear. He made an instant impact to the Waikato scrum and with 14 strong carries made his presence felt around the fringes, too.
Bubbling Under: Tim Perry (Tasman)
Team of the week - Round One: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu), 14 Declan O'Donnell (Taranaki), 13 Rene Ranger (Northland), 12 Matthew Johnson (Southland), 11 Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki), 10 Bryn Gatland (North Harbour), 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki), 8 Luke Whitelock (Canterbury), 7 Du'Plessis Kirifi (Wellington), 6 Jordan Manihera (Waikato), 5 Jarrad Hoeata (North Harbour), 4 Mitchell Dunshea (Canterbury), 3 Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury), 2 Asafo Aumua (Wellington), 1 Pauliasi Manu (Counties Manukau).
By Richard Neal