TEAM OF THE WEEK: Brilliant Bro's
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal, in his weekly wrap, looks at Round Four of the National Provincial Championship in New Zealand.
Hawke's Bay's horror start to the Premiership continued as the Ioane brothers tore their defences apart time and again, beating nine tacklers each. Hawke's Bay seemed to be the better team for much of the match but they just didn't have the individual brilliance to get them the win. Auckland did and they eventually won the game five minutes from time, courtesy of a penalty, 25-24.
When Southland travelled up to Yarrow Stadium, both teams used the strong wind well. However, Taranaki's forwards made much better use of the ball, carving out lots of metres up the middle. Once Taranaki got the lead they never looked like relinquishing it, running out 30-14 winners.
After only four rounds, the match between Bay of Plenty and Northland was already a must-win clash. For the first 30 minutes, Northland looked like breaking their 17-match losing streak stretching back to October 2014. After a wonderful chip 10 metres out, by the Steamers' flyhalf, was gathered by Terrence Hepetema for their second try, Northland lost two players to the sin bin and the floodgates opened.
Several powerful forward movements led to three quick tries and suddenly the Steamers had a 22-point lead which they turned into a 52-25 win.
With the new laws the way they are, possession has become key and this was highlighted in the first Jonah Tali Lomu Memorial Trophy match in Pukekohe. Emotions were high and there were some brutal tackles put in, however, it was a messy affair with 27 penalties and a total of 31 turnovers. Counties eked out a 17-11 lead after the first 40, largely due to a naughty Wellington lock getting 10 in the bin.
Wellington looked like a different side in the second half and a 50-metre penalty goal two minutes after the final hooter gave them a tight 28-27 victory. Wellington get to take the coveted trophy back to the capital for (probably) the next two years.
North Harbour and Manawatu both sat on the edge of the playoff spots of the Championship, making this a very important fixture. In an error-filled but highly entertaining game, North Harbour caused their second major upset of the season, taking down the Turbos 29-25. This was largely due to the boot of the British and Irish Lions coach's son, Bryn Gatland, who picked up a personal haul of 14 points and outplayed his vaunted opposite Otere Black.
Otago have set up all their wins this season on the backs of very strong starts, and two quick tries meant this match was no different. However, Tasman showed why they have been so highly rated since their promotion in 2013, scoring 20 unanswered points. That was not enough as Fletcher Smith set about booting Otago to another victory, 30-27.
Canterbury have arguably had one of the easiest schedules so far this season, starting with an Auckland side that hadn't adjusted to the new laws and an out-of-sorts Tasman, then catching Northland and Hawke's Bay on the back of their short-turnaround games.
All that aside, Canterbury just put 63 points on a Premiership opponent and, almost halfway through the season, look like a champion team. In contrast, Hawke's Bay looked lethargic and by the time they had battled to score a try they were already well behind the defending champs, limping out of the match 7-63 down.
Waikato, and their franchise the Chiefs, love heading up the Waikato Expressway to knock over their big brother Auckland, and the Blues. And they have become very good at it recently. With duel flyhalves Damian McKenzie and Sam Christie directing play and pushing Auckland back with an accurate kicking game, Waikato never looked like losing this one.
They raced ahead only for Auckland to draw level by half-time, after a controversial yellow card. The Mooloos put on a show after the break, with some incredible flourishes ending in a brace for wing Iliesa Ratuva and a 32-35 win that flattered the northern home side.
Score and scorers:
Hawke's Bay 24-25 Auckland
Tries: Ihaia West, Mark Abbott
Cons: Ihaia West
Pens: Ihaia West 4
Tries: Greg Plesants-Tate, Vince Aso
Pens: Simon Hickey 5
Taranaki 30-14 Southland
Tries: Sean Wainui, Ben Watwijow, Lachlan Boshier
Cons: Marty McKenzie 3
Pens: Marty McKenzie 3
Tries: Jason Rutledge
Pens: Greg Dyer 3
Bay of Plenty 52-25 Northland
Bay of Plenty:
Tries: Jesse Parete 2, Terrence Hepetema, Joe Tupe 2, Penalty Try, Isaac Te Aute, TeRangi Fraser
Cons: Kelly Haimona 5, Te Aihe Toma
Tries: Waisea Lawebuka 2, Matt Talaese
Cons: Peter Breen, Daniel Hawkins
Pens: Peter Breen 2
Counties Manukau 27-28 Wellington
Tries: Luteru Laulala 2, Kalolo Tuiloma
Cons: Piers Francis 3
Pens: Piers Francis 2
Tries: Leni Apisai 2, Jackson Garden-Bachop
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 2
Pens: Jackson Garden-Bachop 3
North Harbour 29-25 Manawatu
Tries: Matt Duffie, Tevita Li, Michael Little,
Con: Bryn Gatland
Pens: Bryn Gatland 4
Tries: Ngani Laumape 2, Chris Eves
Cons: Otere Black 2
Pens: Otere Black 2
Otago 30-27 Tasman
Tries: Paul Grant, Craig Millar, Naulia Dawai
Cons: Fletcher Smith 3
Pens: Fletcher Smith 3
Tries: Alex Nankivell, David Havili, Shane Christie
Cons: Marty Banks 3
Pens: Marty Banks 2
Canterbury 63-7 Hawkes' Bay
Tries: George Bridge, Scott Barrett, Dominic Bird, Ben Funnell, Nathan Earle, Rob Thompson 2, Jordie Barrett
Cons: Richie Mo'unga 4, Jordie Barrett 3
Pens: Richie Mo'unga 3
Try: Jonah Lowe
Con: Ihaia West
Auckland 32-35 Waikato
Tries: Blake Gibson 2, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Patrick Tuipulotu
Cons: Simon Hickey 3
Pens: Simon Hickey 2
Tries: Loni Uhila, Sevu Reece, Hame Faiva, Iliesa Ratuva 2
Cons: Damian McKenzie 2
Pens: Damian McKenzie 2
Team of the Week - Round Four:
15 - Jordan Trainor (Waikato):
The young utility has shot up the ranks in recent weeks and with his tackle-breaking and offloading ability he has a bright future.
Bubbling under: Isaac Te Aute (Bay of Plenty)
14 - Mitchell Scott (Otago):
Joined the line well and used his passing game to great effect. He also made all his tackles stick and even picked up a turnover.
Bubbling under: Waisea Lawebuka (Northland)
13 - Rieko Ioane (Auckland):
The Sevens star made Hawkes' Bay look like water as he swam through their defensive line. He was heavily marked against Waikato but still managed to break a couple of tackles.
Bubbling under: Sean Wainui (Taranaki)
12 - Rob Thompson (Canterbury):
He was in the right place at the right time but still broke seven tackles to get his double. Special mention to Ngani Laumape (Manawatu) who picked up yet another brace.
Bubbling under: Michael Little (North Harbour)
11 - George Bridge (Canterbury):
It is hard to tell whether this explosive talent looks so good because he has a destructive forward pack giving him great ball to work off. The fact is, right now he has an amazing forward pack and he looks great.
Bubbling under: Ambrose Curtis (Manawatu)
10 - Damian McKenzie (Waikato):
His amazing running game is almost expected of him but when he adds in 11 tackles, two of which are try-saving, then he's put in a special performance.
Bubbling under: Marty Banks (Tasman)
9 - Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau):
Although he made a few mistakes, his running game and decisive passing is what sets his team in motion. Pulu was heavily involved in all three of his team's tries. Special mention to Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato) who is getting back to his All Black best.
Bubbling under: Jamie Booth (Manawatu)
8 - Luke Whitelock (Canterbury):
Has quickly adapted to the new laws, stealing two rucks off the Magpies, while making 18 carries in traffic for 41 metres.
Bubbling under: Hoani Matenga (Wellington)
7 - Akira Ioane (Auckland):
He puts up truly incredible numbers every week. This week he played two games in four days, beat 19 tacklers, ran 241 metres with ball in hand from his 38 carries. And that's why he is this week's Player of the Round.
Bubbling under: Connor Collett (North Harbour)
6 - Jesse Parete (Bay of Plenty):
Had a strong all-round game, with 11 tackles, none missed, a breakdown turnover, a line out steal and two tries.
Bubbling under: Tom Sanders (Canterbury)
5 - Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland):
Must have been hurting when he was passed over for the All Blacks game against Los Pumas and went out to prove why he deserved the bench spot against the Springboks.
Bubbling under: Dominic Bird (Canterbury)
4 - Scott Barrett (Canterbury):
Totally dismantled Hawkes' Bay's line-out stealing almost as many as they won.
Bubbling under: Ben Matwijow (Taranaki)
3 - Ben May (Hawkes' Bay):
He held strong against one of the best scrums in the competition when he faced Canterbury, but it was his running game earlier in the week against Auckland that won him this spot.
Bubbling under: Atu Moli (Waikato)
2 - Rhys Marshall (Taranaki):
Puts in a mountain of work every time he takes the field. Marshall made 13 tackles, 12 carries, got a try assist and he can hit a dime with his line-out throwing.
Bubbling under: Hame Faiva (Waikato)
1 - Loni Uhila (Waikato):
Made his All Black opponent look like 129 kilograms of soft butter.
Bubbling under: Peni Ravai (Southland)
Team of the week - Round Three: 15 Michael Collins (Otago), 14 Beaudein Waaka (Taranaki), 13 Rieko Ioane (Auckland), 12 Ryan Crotty (Canterbury), 11 Wes Goosen (Wellington), 10 Fletcher Smith (Otago), 9 Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau), 8 Naulia Dawai (Otago), 7 Akira Ioane (Auckland), 6 Pete Samu (Tasman), 5 Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), 4 Josh Goodhue (Northland), 3 Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury), 2 Greg Pleasants-Tate (Auckland), 1 Loni Uhila (Waikato)
Team of the week - Round Two: 15 Jason Emery (Manawatu), 14 Newton Tudreu (Manawatu), 13 Matt Proctor (Wellington), 12 Rob Thompson (Canterbury), 11 Tevita Li (North Harbour),10 Fletcher Smith (Otago), 9 Te Aihe Toma (Bay of Plenty), 8 Steven Luatua (Auckland), 7 James Lentjes (Otago), 6 Bill Fukofuka (Southland), 5 Dominic Bird (Canterbury), 4 Thomas Franklin (Otago), 3 Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury), 2 Rhys Marshall (Taranaki), 1 Peni Ravai (Southland)
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 HeidenBedwell-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