Team of the week: And we're off
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal, in the first of his weekly wraps, looks at the 'new' National Provincial Championship in New Zealand.
The new version of the NPC began this past weekend - complete with the new breakdown and tackle laws.
These included: the tackler must release the ball carrier, then re-join behind the midpoint of the breakdown; players off their feet are out of the game; and only the scrumhalf may lift the ball, once the breakdown is formed.
The laws had mixed success and essentially made the fetcher role redundant, with breakdowns becoming either uncontested, driven over with no hands used or a messy kick-fest.
The teams that adapted quickest to the new rules had a distinct advantage and this showed with North Harbour (whose club teams have been playing under the new rules) beating Counties Manukau (who haven't) by 20-17.
Last Friday, Manawatu restored some semblance of normality when they beat cellar-dwellers Northland 27-34.
The main events were held on Saturday - with Taranaki kicking off their campaign with a win over Bay of Plenty 22-30.
Wellington got revenge for last year's Championship Final loss to newly-promoted Hawkes' Bay by beating them 36-26 in a scoreline that flattered the hosts.
The last match of the day sounded an ominous warning, as current Premiership champions Canterbury thrashed the 2015 finalists Auckland, 43-3.
Sunday's match-ups saw Otago reverse a first-half deficit to annihilate Southland 40-17 and Tasman pipped Waikato 24-19 courtesy of a late try.
Score and scorers:
North Harbour 20-17 Counties Manukau
Tries:Mike Faleafa 2, Warren Dunn, Jack Ram
Cons: Peter Breen 2
Pen: Peter Breen
Tries:Ngani Laumape, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Jason Emery, Ambrose Curtis
Cons: Sam Malcolm 2, Otere Black 2
Pens: Sam Malcolm 2
Bay of Plenty 22-30 Taranaki
Bay of Plenty:
Tries:Lalakai Foketi, Te Rangi Fraser, Joe Tupe
Cons: Kelly Haimona 2
Pen: Luke Campbell
Tries:Jonathan Fa'auli, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Berny Hall
Cons: Marty McKenzie 3
Pens: Marty McKenzie 3
Hawkes' Bay 26-36 Wellington
Tries:Billy Ropiha, Ryan Tongia, Geoffrey Cridge, Falemiga Selesele
Cons: Ihaia West 3
Tries:Joe Hill, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Galu Taufale, Greg Foe, Alex Fidow
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 4
Pen: Jackson Garden-Bachop
Canterbury 43-3 Auckland
Tries:Richie Mo'unga, Ben Funnell, Johnny McNicholl 2, Reed Prinsep, Nathan Vella
Cons: Richie Mo'unga 4, Ben Volavola
Pen: Richie Mo'unga
Southland 17-40 Otago
Try:Jaye Thompson-Te Muunu
Pens: Wharenui Hawera 4
Tries:Teihorangi Walden 2, Michael Collins, Dillon Hunt, Josh Walden
Cons: Fletcher Smith 3
Pens: Fletcher Smith 3
Tasman 24-19 Waikato
Tries:Finlay Christie, Alex Ainley
Con: Mitch Hunt
Pens: Mitch Hunt 4
Con: Damian McKenzie
Pens: Damian McKenzie 4
Team of the Week - Round One:
15 - Solomona Alaimalo (Northland):
He was masterful on the kick-return, racking up metres left and right, while combining well with his fellow outside backs.
Bubbling under: Matt Duffie (North Harbour)
14 - Johnny McNicholl (Canterbury):
He continued his Super Rugby form, showcasing his skills and picking up a brace.
Bubbling under: Fa'asiu Fuatai (Otago)
13 - Matt Vaega (North Harbour):
He had a match-winning performance to earn himself Player of the Round - not only shattering the defensive line time and again but also kicking two from two. Special mention to Jack Goodhue (Canterbury) who would have been selected had it not been for the amazing competition in this position.
Bubbling under: Matt Proctor (Wellington)
12 - Tei Walden (Otago):
Was involved in every good backline move his team made, picking up two tries in the process. Special mention to Michael Little (North Harbour).
Bubbling under: Ngani Laumape (Manawatu)
11 - Wes Goosen (Wellington):
Not only made huge metres out wide, but shut down one of the fastest players in the competition.
Bubbling under: James Lowe (Tasman)
10 - Damian McKenzie (Waikato):
Showed his class in a losing endeavour, kicking seven from seven and gliding past seven opponents.
Bubbling under: Jackson Garden-Bachop (Wellington)
9 - Finlay Christie (Tasman):
He is one to watch in the future, as the young scrumhalf nipped past defenders to rack up 63 metres, beating three defenders and scoring a try.
Bubbling under: Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Taranaki)
8 - Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Manawatu):
He was everywhere, tackling his vaunted opponents to a standstill. He also scored a try and made good metres in the loose and tight.
Bubbling under: Luke Whitelock (Canterbury)
7 - Tony Lamborn (Hawkes' Bay):
There was little to separate these two openside flanks, who played equally brilliant, but very different styles. Lamborn takes it by way of a round-high 16 tackles, a turnover and three storming runs. Greg Foe (Wellington) missed three tackles but made 17 carries and scored a try. Special mention to Kara Pryor (Northland) who made the most metres by any forward this round (90m) but gave away too many penalties to crack the TotW.
Bubbling under: Greg Foe (Wellington).
6 - Pete Samu (Tasman):
He is the new body type for flanks in the NPC, driving over the breakdown to collect four turnovers, while stealing two line-outs.
Bubbling under: Taleni Seu (Auckland)
5 - Brian Alainu'uese (Waikato):
He weighs in at a massive 133kg and threw his entire bulk into the Tasman pack, bossing the gain-line and driving through tackles.
Bubbling under: Dominic Bird (Canterbury)
4 - Scott Barrett (Canterbury):
He is perfect for the new breakdown laws. He shifts bodies and drove over breakdowns to collect two turnovers, while doing the business on defence and attack.
Bubbling under: Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington)
3 - Michael Kainga (Taranaki):
He helped his side to a strong scrum advantage while also putting in the hard yards in close and not missing a single tackle.
Bubbling under: Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury)
2 - Rhys Marshall (Taranaki):
He had one of the better line-out performances this round, along with a big running game and solid scrum.
Bubbling under: Liam Coltman (Otago)
1 - Nic Mayhew (North Harbour):
He was a thorn in the Counties' front row as he got under their skin time and again.
Bubbling under: Mitchell Graham (Taranaki)
Team of the week - Round One: 15 Solomona Alaimalo (Northland), 14 Johnny McNicholl (Canterbury), 13 Matt Vaega (North Harbour), 12 Tei Walden (Otago), 11 Wes Goosen (Wellington), 10 Damian McKenzie (Waikato), 9 Finlay Christie (Tasman), 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Manawatu), Tony Lamborn (Hawkes' Bay), 6 Pete Samu (Tasman), 5 Brian Alainu'uese (Waikato), 4 Scott Barrett (Canterbury), 3 Michael Kainga (Taranaki), 2 Rhys Marshall (Taranaki), 1 Nic Mayhew (North Harbour).
By Richard Neal