TEAM OF THE WEEK: Life in the Fast Lane
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal, in his weekly wrap, looks at Round Two of the National Provincial Championship in New Zealand.
In the second round of the NPC, some teams began to adapt better to the new breakdown and tackle laws, but there were a few stragglers.
These slow adapters were at a huge disadvantage and it showed right across the weekend's games.
The worst offenders at the breakdown were Wellington, who had a horrendous first half.
Their opponents, Otago, burst onto the park continuing the way they ended last week. With a first half four-try bonus point already on the score sheet, Otago let Wellington back into the match somewhat.
However, a string of handling errors and breakdown confusion meant Otago easily got revenge for last year's semi-final by thumping the capital 44-21.
In what was almost the perfect game of two halves, Manawatu blitzed Southland to lead 24-0 after the first 40, only to have a revitalised Southland forward pack march them back in the thrilling second half.
A late try by Southland loosehead substitute and Mr T lookalike second prize winner Peni Ravi squared them up at 31-all.
With 20 seconds on the clock, the Turbos flung the ball wide and the otherwise excellent Wharenui Hawera went offside at a ruck.
Manawatu flyhalf Otere Black stepped up to slot the pressure penalty in the rain to push the Turbos out to a 34-31 win at home.
After being embarrassed the previous week by the 2015 champions, Auckland came out fiery-eyed against last year's wooden-spooners (the 2015 Northland side had the worst season in the competition's 40-year history, finishing with only one competition point and a massive -277 points differential).
Battling through the atrocious weather, Auckland easily ran out 37-15.
The prized Log o' Wood, the Ranfurly Shield, went on the line. Even though North Harbour fought hard there was really only one team in the match, as Waikato streaked to a 12-0 lead within a mere four minutes, courtesy of tries by returning Irish international Isaac Boss and Mr T lookalike winner Loni Uhila.
North Harbour had long periods of offence, but Waikato's superiority at the breakdown shattered Harbour's continuity. The Mooloo Men even picked up a late bonus point try in their 26-15 win.
Hawkes' Bay came out strong, led by their Super Rugby stalwarts. After an early Jonah Lowe try and an Ash Dixon intercept within Taranaki's in-goal, the Magpies were up 14-0.
However, Taranaki had too much class to be held down for long and, after some strong words at half-time, the Bulls came out firing. And fire they did, scoring an incredible 6 second half tries, to blow the stunned Hawkes' Bay players away, 55-28.
The two major feeder provinces for the Crusaders went head to head in a Sunday afternoon derby that would make many international teams jealous.
Canterbury and Tasman both had All Blacks waiting on their benches.
The levels of skill and execution displayed were outstanding, but the home team finished every chance they got and with 4 tries in the last 20 minutes, they ended up thrashing their more northern rivals by 45 to 14. Canterbury are another level up and even at this early stage look like they may go through the competition unbeaten.
Counties Manukau came within a whisker of a second shock in as many weeks. The South Aucklanders just held out Bay of Plenty after a late onslaught saw the Steamers pick up three late tries and garner two bonus points.
Bay of Plenty started and ended the match strongly and were up 15-11 at the half time break. However, a foolish knock down saw, otherwise excellent, wing Monty Ioane sitting in the naughty chair and a penalty try awarded. During those 10 minutes, Counties picked up two more seven-pointers and built an unassailable lead which they held to win the match 39-34.
Score and scorers:
Otago 44-21 Wellington
Tries:Matt Faddes, Thomas Franklin, Sam Anderson-Heather, Jack Wilson, Michael Collins
Cons: Fletcher Smith 5
Pens: Fletcher Smith 2, Scott Eade
Tries:Wes Goosen, Shaun Treeby, Matt Proctor
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 3
Manawatu 34-31 Southland
Tries:Callum Gibbins, Ngani Laumape 3
Cons: Otere Black 4
Pens: Otere Black 2
Tries:Mikaele Mafi, Junior Ngaluafe, Wharenui Hawera, Bill Fukofuka
Cons: Wharenui Hawera 4
Pens: Wharenui Hawera
Auckland 37-15 Northland
Tries:Pryor Collier, Kurt Eklund, Steven Luatua 2, Vince Aso
Cons: Simon Hickey 3
Pens: Simon Hickey 2
Tries:Josh Larsen, Jone Macilai-Tori
Cons: Malcolm MacLeod
Pens: Peter Breen
Waikato 26-15 North Harbour
Tries:Isaac Boss, Loni Uhila, Nathaniel Apa, Hame Faiva
Cons: Jordan Trainor 3
Tries:Michael Little, Bryn Hall
Cons: Bryn Gatland
Pens: Bryn Gatland
Taranaki 55-28 Hawkes' Bay
Tries:Michell Crosswell, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Rhys Marshall, Manasa Mataele, Marty McKenzie, Declan O'Donnell, Trinity Spooner-Neera
Cons: Marty McKenzie 7
Pens: Marty McKenzie 2
Tries:Jonah Lowe, Ash Dixon, Ihaia West, Geoffrey Cridge
Cons: Ihaia West 4
Canterbury 45-14 Tasman
Tries:Jordie Barrett, Dominic Bird, Nathan Vella, Jack Goodhue, Kaveinga Finau
Cons: Jordie Barrett 4
Pens: Jordie Barrett 4
Pens: Marty Banks 3
Counties Manukau 39-34 Bay of Plenty
Tries:Jordan Taufua, Viliame Rarasea, Penalty Try, Sione Molia, Sherwin Stowers
Cons: Piers Francis 4
Pens: Piers Francis 2
Bay of Plenty:
Tries:Monty Ioane 2, Hugh Blake, James O'Reilly, Regan Ware
Cons: Kelly Haimona, Te Aihe Toma 2
Pen: Kelly Haimona
Team of the Week - Round Two:
15 - Jason Emery (Manawatu):
The Highlanders' centre has made a successful shift to the last line of defence and was exactly that. Taking down several attackers and even stealing a ball from a breakdown. Special mention to Marty McKenzie (Taranaki) who kicked his side to victory with 25 points.
Bubbling under: Jordie Barrett (Canterbury)
14 - Newton Tudreu (Manawatu)
Was unlucky not to pick up a try, but broke 5 tackles and made 80 metres while bamboozling the Southlanders.
Bubbling under: Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty)
13 - Matt Proctor (Wellington):
The Super Rugby winner put in a giant performance on attack (beating 6 defenders) and defence (not missing a single tackle).
Bubbling under: Sam Vaka (Counties Manukau)
12 - Rob Thompson (Canterbury):
This was the hardest position to pick because the two candidates had near perfect games. It's not often someone could take this spot over the scorer of a hat-trick, but Rob Thompson was just that good.
Bubbling under: Ngani Laumape (Manawatu)
11 - Tevita Li (North Harbour):
With a big step, race-horse speed and surprising power, this new Highlander is going to be a great acquisition in 2017 for the southern club.
Bubbling under: Manasa Mataele (Taranaki)
10 - Fletcher Smith (Otago):
Controlled the game superbly, directing his team to a giant win over the much-vaunted opposition.
Bubbling under: Wharenui Hawera (Southland)
9 - Te Aihe Toma (Bay of Plenty):
Has a lightning quick pass, but it was his outstanding defence that caught the eye, as the young scrummie saved 2 certain tries.
Bubbling under: Brad Weber (Hawkes' Bay)
8 - Steven Luatua (Auckland):
The Blues' thief extraordinaire is hitting a rich vein of form, his side took 64% of Northland's line-out ball. On top of that, Luatua picked up a brace.
Bubbling under: Luke Whitelock (Canterbury)
7 - James Lentjes (Otago):
Led Otago's solid defensive effort with a round-high 24 tackles, while being a disruptive force at the breakdown.
Bubbling under: Callum Gibbons (Manawatu)
6 - Bill Fukofuka (Southland):
Captain of the 2015 Tongan Under 20s team, Bill Fukofuka showed why he is so highly rated. He capped off numerous powerful runs with a late try that drew the scores level.
Bubbling under: Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Manawatu)
5 - Dominic Bird (Canterbury):
Revitalised after his move to the Chiefs, the giant Cantab lock has set about his work like a man possessed, making 10 carries, not missing a tackle and picking up a try to boot.
Bubbling under: Matt Philip (Southland)
4 - Thomas Franklin (Otago):
Otago dominated Wellington in the air and with 9 takes (including a steal) that was mainly because of Franklin.
Bubbling under: Scott Scrafton (Auckland)
3 - Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury):
It is rare to see a scrum go against the head, but due, in large part, to Tokolahi's prowess, Canterbury took 4 scrums against the feed.
Bubbling under: Phil Kite (Northland)
2 - Rhys Marshall (Taranaki):
The only returning player to the TotW and this week's Player of the Round, Rhys Marshall is the total package at hooker. 15 line outs won, 8 scrums won, 6 tackles with none missed, a breakdown turnover, 11 carries and a try.
Bubbling under: Ben Funnell (Canterbury)
1 - Peni Ravai (Southland):
Ravai made such an impact with his barn-storming runs setting up 2 tries that he forced his way into the TotW despite only playing the second half.
Bubbling under: Loni Uhila (Waikato)
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