Team of the Week: Points machine
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal looks at Round Four of New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
Two horror weeks for Hawkes' Bay didn't look like improving against the Championship's runaway leader, Wellington.
After an early Tian Falcon penalty, Wellington changed gear and Julian Savea scored a typical barging try with his first touch.
With regular hooker Asafo Aumua called up to the All Blacks as their new apprentice, his replacement Sitiveni Paongo picked up where Aumua left off, powering over with two Magpies hanging off him.
All of the Lions made metres at will in the first half, ending in Alex Fidow bumping off three for a try.
Hawkes' Bay had an extended period of possession finally crossing the line after an incredible six minutes inside Wellington's five-metre line.
One minute into the second half and Richard Buckman's clearance kick (from deep inside his 22) went directly up.
Buckman lost it forward when it returned to Earth, and after three phases, Fidow drove over for a brace.
Hawkes' Bay fought back late and picked up a bonus point with three tries in the final quarter, leaving the score at 40-27.
Following on from two low-end Championship teams and a romp against an embarrassing Auckland side, North Harbour finally met some opposition versus Counties Manukau.
The Harbour forwards showed early dominance and with the Bryns, Gatland and Hall, directing play, they were 10 points up after 40 minutes.
However, a penalty from a scrum, a beautiful pass from veteran flyhalf Stephen Donald and a stunning run from Tim Nanai-Williams ended with a try to fullback Luteru Laulala.
Spurred on, a reinvigorated Steelers came out of the shed and quickly set to work.
Drive after drive forcing Harbour back and then Nanai-Williams stepped through to score and take Counties into the lead.
Momentum swung back Harbour's way and Counties had to put in dozens of tackles, but apart from two penalty goals, they held firm.
Until, that is, Tevita Li pulled a rabbit from his hat, slipped out of three tackles and gave Harbour a lead they never relinquished, winning 27-18.
Canterbury sit top of Division One and Southland at the bottom of Division Two and the gap couldn't be more obvious during this Ranfurly Shield challenge.
All square at half-time, Canterbury looked like scoring every time they held the ball after the break.
Braydon Ennor scored four tries and George Bridge crossed three times winning a near-perfect second stanza 61-3 and the game 78-20.
The second match on Friday was between two Championship sides desperately needing some momentum.
Bay of Plenty's bench won it for them, coming on to dominate Manawatu at scrum time. They won both a penalty try and forced a yellow card on Bedwell-Curtis for not retreating 10 metres after a long string of offences.
The Turbos didn't roll over easily, defending well with only 14 men and making a strong surge into the Bay's territory, but the Steamers held on to win 20-17.
Saturday's first match was a fascinating one, with both Auckland and Taranaki underperforming in previous rounds.
Auckland's forwards finally turned up as a pack this week, with returning Chief Taleni Seu and Maori All Black Marcel Renata leading the charge.
But it was Taranaki's X-factor players that struck first, opening up a 12-point lead in just seven minutes.
Auckland hastily hit back and the lead ping-ponged all match. Both Seu and Renata picked up well-earned tries, with Seu setting up another with a falling offload.
Taranaki's pack worked their way into the second half and a stunning 80-metre try following some courageous defence, killed the match off as a contest. The 11-try thriller ended 38-49 at Eden Park.
Northland came up against what should have been their toughest opposition yet. However, Waikato was as poor as the weather.
The atrocious rain and swirling wind didn't affect the Taniwhas who put on a breakdown clinic, picking up a bonus point win against their Premiership opposition.
Losi Filipo got his first start for Wellington against Tasman on Sunday. The wing was controversially released without conviction last year for instigating a horrible assault on four people, including two women, stomping on the head of one man four times, including at least once when he was unconscious.
Straight away, Wellington's forwards picked up the pace, a Du'Plessis Kirifi turnover led to a long Will Mangos break. Then some great front-ranker interplay with Julian Savea put Alex Fidow away for yet another try this season.
A lot has been said and written about Wellington's attack this season, but it was their defence that frustrated the Makos for long periods of the match.
Including five minutes at the end of the first quarter, which turned into a scrum for the Lions.
From the scrum, Garden-Bachop grubbered from inside his own 22. The ball bounced perfectly for Wes Goosen, who stepped Will Jordan and when he was chased down by James Lowe, passed to his fullback Ben Lam in support who took the lead out to eight points.
13-28 up and Wellington's short-turnaround week finally caught up with them.
First it was Tasman's fullback Will Jordan diving over, then James Lowe, and finally Mitch Hunt with a try, another penalty and three more conversions to extend the Makos out to a two-score advantage.
Losi Filipo scored a consolation try to give Wellington two losing bonus points.
But when Garden-Bachop's penalty kick failed to find touch for the second time in the game, Tasman wrapped up the match 37-35.
Hawkes' Bay were a shadow of the team promoted in 2015. Looking lethargic and quite uninterested, they succumbed to Otago, conceding nine tries.
From Otago's POV, however, Fletcher Smith returned to his best from 2016, kicking nine from 10 and scoring a hat-trick to beat the Magpies all by himself.
Score and scorers:
Wellington 40-27 Hawkes' Bay
Tries: Julian Savea, Sitiveni Paongo, Alex Fidow 2, Wes Goosen, Malo Tuitama
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 4, Daniel Kirkpatrick
Tries: Cardiff Vaega, Jason Long, Sam McNicol, Jorian Tangaere
Cons: Tian Falcon 2
Pen: Tian Falcon
Counties Manukau 18-27 North Harbour
Tries: Luteru Laulala, Tim Nanai-Williams
Con: Luteru Laulala
Pens: Luteru Laulala 2
Tries: Sione Mafileo, Tevita Li
Con: Bryn Gatland
Pens: Bryn Gatland, Ben Volavola 4
Canterbury 78-20 Southland
Tries: Richie Mo'unga 2, Braydon Ennor 4, George Bridge 3, Josh McKay, Tim Bateman
Cons: Richie Mo'unga 5, Brett Cameron 5
Pen: Richie Mo'unga
Tries: Junior Ngaluafe, Neria Formai
Cons: Scott Eade 2
Pens: Scott Eade 2
Manawatu 17-20 Bay Of Plenty
Tries: Otere Black, Lewis Marshall
Cons: Otere Black 2
Pen: Otere Black
Bay Of Plenty:
Tries: Joe Webber, Penalty Try (Automatic Conversion)
Cons: Kelly Haimona
Pens: Kelly Haimona 2
Auckland 38-49 Taranaki
Tries: Vince Aso 3, Marcel Renata, Taleni Seu
Cons: Jono Hickey, Tyrone Elkington
Pens: Jono Hickey 3
Tries: Declan O’Donnell, Toa Halafihi, Stephen Perofeta, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Lachlan Boshier, Kylen O’Donnell
Cons: Marty McKenzie 5
Pens: Marty McKenzie 2, Stephen Perofeta
Northland 37-7 Waikato
Tries: Solomona Alaimalo, Ross Wright, Jack Ram, Jack Goodhue, Jone Macilai
Cons: Daniel Hawkins 2, Tim Blundell
Pens: Daniel Hawkins 2
Try: Adam Burn
Con: Matthew Lansdown
Tasman 37-35 Wellington
Tries: Tim Perry, Will Jordan, James Lowe, Mitch Hunt
Cons: Mitch Hunt 4
Pens: Mitch Hunt 2
Tries: Alex Fidow, Ben Lam, Sam Lousi, James Blackwell, Losi Filipo
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 5
Hawkes' Bay 21-64 Otago
Tries: Jonah Lowe, Marino Mikaele Tu'u, Ellery Wilson
Cons: Dan Snee 3
Tries: Josh Furno 2, Dillon Hunt, Sio Tomkinson, Fletcher Smith 3, Sekonaia Pole, Aki Seiuli
Cons: Fletcher Smith 8
Pen: Fletcher Smith
Team of the Week - Round Four:
15 - Fletcher Smith (Otago):
With a record for the most individual points in a match, Fletcher Smith captured his best form and the Player of the Round award. One would think he will be a force from fullback for the rest of the season.
Bubbling Under: George Bridge (Canterbury)
14 - Jordan Hyland (Northland):
The utility back has found a place on the wing to call his own, breaking tackles and getting impressive go-forward ball on every carry. Special mention to Declan O’Donnell (Taranaki).
Bubbling Under: Vince Aso (Auckland)
13 - Tim Nanai-Williams (Counties Manukau):
Getting back to his silky running best. Nanai-Williams is also an accomplished kicking option, getting the Steelers out of trouble from the midfield.
Bubbling Under: Wes Goosen (Wellington)
12 - Regan Verney (Wellington):
The former Penrith Panther is making waves in the middle of the field for Wellington. His staunch defence and abrasive running style makes it hard for oppositions to get momentum.
Bubbling Under: Terrence Hepetema (Bay Of Plenty)
11 - Braydon Ennor (Canterbury):
A season-high 209 metres carried and four tries introduced the world to Under 20’s centre-cum-wing, Braydon Ennor, who was just pipped for the Player of the Round award. Special mention to Jone Macilai (Northland).
Bubbling Under: Tevita Li (North Harbour)
10 - Mitch Hunt (Tasman):
Perfect kicking from the tee, good defence and the winning try to top off a 22 point effort. Special mention to Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki) who takes over from Aaron Cruden as the best kick-restarter in New Zealand.
Bubbling Under: Richie Mo’unga (Canterbury)
9 - Bryn Hall (North Harbour):
Hall is looking good to take the third scrumhalf spot for the All Blacks, directing play well, sniping around the fringes and making his tackles count with accuracy and ferocity.
Bubbling Under: Richard Judd (Bay Of Plenty)
8 - Toa Halafihi (Taranaki):
Huge work rate at both ends of the spectrum. Halafihi was a force at rucks, stealing ball and shifting bodies; making 69 metres from 14 carries; scoring a try; and linking well with his backs from passes and offloads alike.
Bubbling Under: Jerome Kaino (Auckland)
7 - Du’Plessis Kirifi (Wellington):
Two strong matches on attack from the young openside, but it was against Hawkes' Bay where he really shone, beating five defenders and making the final pass for a try assist. He was also excellent without the ball, making 19 tackles without missing one and grabbing a breakdown turnover, too.
Bubbling Under: Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki)
6 - Jack Ram (Northland):
The Tongan international showed Waikato how to contest a breakdown, stealing several crucial turnovers. His tireless work on attack got the Taniwhas endless go-forward ball from his 14 carries. Special mention to Ethan Blackadder (Tasman).
Bubbling Under: Taleni Seu (Auckland)
5 - Josh Dickson (Otago):
Complete line-out dominance from the big man, stealing three of Hawkes' Bay's throws. He also had a perfect night on defence.
Bubbling Under: Dominic Bird (Canterbury)
4 - Josh Furno (Otago):
An excellent compliment to his locking partner, Furno stole two throw-ins, had a big night on defence and picked up a double for his hard work on attack.
Bubbling Under: Tim Bond (Northland)
3 - Alex Fidow (Wellington):
The Under-20s prop got a brace plus one in Wellington's two games this week and broke more tackles than Julian Savea. The Wellington scrum showed a significant drop when he was subbed off.
Bubbling Under: Marcel Renata (Auckland)
2 - Liam Polwart (Bay Of Plenty):
A massive scrum that effectively won the game for the Steamers, combined with solid defence and an efficient line-out (he even stole one for the Bay).
Bubbling Under: James Parsons (North Harbour)
1 - Ross Wright (Northland):
Another massive performance from the 10-season veteran of Northland. He was a big part in the scrum dominance over Waikato. Special mention to Chris Eves (North Harbour).
Bubbling Under: Pauliasi Manu (Counties Manukau)
Team of the week - Round Three: 15 Shaun Stephenson (North Harbour), 14 Marshall Suckling (Canterbury), 13 Matt Vaega (North Harbour), 12 Jack Goodhue (Northland), 11 Jona Nareki (Otago), 10 Brett Cameron (Canterbury), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato), 8 Jordan Taufua (Tasman), 7 Mitchell Jacobson (Waikato), 6 Dillon Hunt (Otago), 5 James Tucker (Waikato), 4 Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington), 3 Oli Jager (Canterbury), 2 AsafoAumua (Wellington), 1 Ross Wright (Northland).
Team of the week - Round Two: 15 Will Jordan (Tasman), 14 Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty), 13 Matt Vaega (North Harbour), 12 Rob Thompson (Canterbury), 11 Joe Webber (Bay of Plenty), 10 Richie Mo'unga (Canterbury), 9 Pele Cowley (Waikato), 8 Elliot Dixon (Southland), 7 Connor Collett (North Harbour), 6 Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki), 5 Scott Scrafton (Auckland), 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), 3 Aki Seiuli (Otago), 2 Asafo Aumua (Wellington), 1 Loni Uhila (Waikato).
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