Team of the Week: Forwards go wild
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal, in his weekly wrap, looks at a number of hat-trick being scored by forwards in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
Rain pelted New Zealand's north and south islands for most of the week, making it a week for try-scoring forwards, with 34 out of 62 tries scored by the big men.
This includes the competitions' third, fourth and fifth ever hat-tricks by forwards.
These went to Wellington's skilful hooker Asago Aumua, Counties' gigantic prop Kalolo Tuiloma and the non-stop No.8 for Bay of Plenty, Joe Tupe.
Southland hosted Bay of Plenty first up last Wednesday.
The teams had just a solitary win between them and Southland were desperate to avoid the wooden spoon. Whereas, Bay of Plenty sat fourth in the thin 7-team Championship division.
It was a match that was ultimately lost due to a sub-par kicking display. Over the season Southland's flyhalf, Wharenui Hawera, has a 90 percent success rate off the tee; Kelly Haimona, in contrast, has only 58 percent and the Steamers' alternate kicker, Dan Hollinshead has 50 percent. Guess who won?
The Steamers came out strongly, with their forwards driving over two unconverted tries. They then traded penalties, with Haimona missing a shot and Hollinshead missing 2 relatively easy ones.
In the second half, the Southland Stags scored two converted tries, one to All Black Elliot Dixon. They again traded penalties and the Stags defended off a final Steamers' burst to win 20-16.
The Southland Stags picked up their first win, leaving Northland as the sole winless team in the NPC.
In their match against Wellington, at times it looked like the Taniwha were trying to add to their record 18-match losing streak.
If Wellington were playing at their absolute worst, they still would have beaten the Taniwha, whose discipline, set piece and handling were all woeful.
The task was made even harder for Northland when No.8 Kara Pryor was fended off by the Lions' hooker, Asafo Aumua. Chasing hard, Pryor caught up to Aumua's support runner just in time to hit him with a high swinging arm as the offload was caught.
For this offence, he was given 10 minutes to think about his actions.
Meanwhile, Asafo Aumua ran in for his second and third tries of the match.
Pryor went some way to redeeming himself with a neat offload to Mattich who went in under the posts, but Wellington eventually ran out 21-29 winners.
On either side of their biggest Ranfurly Shield defences to date, missing two of their most important players at scrumhalf and flyhalf along with a host of other injuries, Waikato took on a Counties Manukau team sitting third and on the rise due to their mercurial #9, Augustine Pulu.
Counties Manukau had an amazing first quarter at home in Pukekohe against Waikato. Gigantic prop Kalolo Tuiloma picked up a hat-trick and was dominant at scrum time as the Steelers gained a 22-5 lead at half-time.
In the second 40, the Steelers' monster forwards continued unabated. Although several Waikato players manned up, it was not enough to stop Counties taking it 35-26.
The top Premiership side, Canterbury, hosted the only unbeaten team, Otago, in a massive cross-division clash.
In an action-packed 11-try bonanza, Canterbury shot back into winning ways on the back of a dominant first half that garnered a bonus point.
Johnny McNicholl was in particularly good form, with his first winding run setting up prop Alex Hodgman's try. McNicholl set up the third try, as well, with an astonishing offload around Fa'asiu Fuatai's back for Nathan Earle to dot down.
Otago had a resurgence, drawing the second half, but Canterbury never looked in danger of losing the match, as they ended Otago's winning streak by 45-34.
Giant killers, Manawatu, led a first half played in atrocious Taranaki conditions. Their single point lead over the home side slipped in the last 15 minutes after a superb turn-over and counter attack finished by Latu Vaeno and a line-out drive for Rhys Marshall to go over.
Manawatu had a late burst ending in a disallowed bonus-point try that, upon replays, was clearly placed against the padding of the upright. However, the game was whistled over with a 30-19 score line.
The final game on Saturday was between the two teams under threat of relegation.
Hawkes' Bay were plagued by errors and ill-discipline, with Tasman taking full advantage to run in five tries to four to win 29-36.
Southland's short-turnaround match was at the other end of the country and the rain was pouring down on the North Shore.
In a game more akin to force-back than rugby, there were 97 kicks out of hand. The difference between the teams was the superior positional play of North Harbour's back three and some wonderful finishing.
The counter-attacking and kicking of Harbour's wings led directly to three of their four tries and a large 35-14 win.
A classic forwards versus backs match got underway in Rotorua with both teams on the edge of their respective playoff spots.
Bay of Plenty's line-out took quick advantage after a steal and a maul got them an early try. Hooker Liam Polwart then nicked a cheeky intercept and would have been away had play not been called back for a separate offside.
Then it was the Steamers' scrum that drove Auckland's vaunted pack backwards over 10 metres, winning a penalty.
The penalty was missed, but another stolen line-out saw No.8 Joe Tupe in miles of space. His offload to bleach-blonde Teddy Stanaway put the Bay up 12-3.
But when Rieko Ioane got in space he slipped past five prospective tacklers without a hand laid on him for a 50m try.
Unfortunately for Bay of Plenty, there was too much class in Auckland's backline and with Ioane getting a triple, Auckland sealed the 12-try thriller 44-38.
Round Six score and scorers:
Southland 20-16 Bay of Plenty
Tries:James Schrader, Elliot Dixon
Cons: Wharenui Hawera 2
Pens: Wharenui Hawera 2
Bay of Plenty:
Tries:Aiden Ross, Joe Tupe
Pens: Kelly Haimona, Dan Hollinshead
Northland 21-29 Wellington
Tries:Solomona Alaimalo, Matt Matich, Shane Neville
Cons: Peter Breen 3
Tries:Hoani Matenga, Asafo Aumua 3
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 3
Pen: Jackson Garden-Bachop
Counties-Manukau 35-26 Waikato
Tries:Kalolo Tuiloma 3, Gafatasi Su'a, Sione Fifita
Cons: Piers Francis 2
Pens: Piers Francis 2
Tries:Iliesa Ratuva, Brad Tucker, Steven Misa, Jason Robertson
Cons: Sam Christie, Jason Robertson 2
Canterbury 45-34 Otago
Tries:Alex Hodgman, Rob Thompson, Nathan Earle, Billy Harmon, Johnny McNicholl, David McDuling, Nathan Vella
Cons: Richie Mo'unga 5
Tries:Fa'asiu Fuatai, Tei Walden, Paul Grant, Naulia Dawai
Cons: Fletcher Smith, Scott Eade 3
Pens: Fletcher Smith 2
Taranaki 30-19 Manawatu
Tries:Reuben O'Neill, Kylem O'Donnell, Latu Vaeno, Rhys Marshall
Cons: Marty McKenzie 2
Pens: Marty McKenzie 2
Con: Otere Black
Pens: Otere Black 4
Hawkes' Bay 29-36 Tasman
Tries:Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Tony Lamborn, Jason Long, Jonah Lowe
Cons: Ihaia West 3
Pen: Ihaia West
Tries:Tima Fainga'anuku, Peter Samu, Kieron Fonotia, Marty Banks, Caleb Makene
Cons: Marty Banks 4
Pen: Marty Banks
North Harbour 35-14 Southland
Tries:Tevita Li 2, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Christopher Vui
Cons: Bryn Gatland 2, Matt McGahan
Pens: Bryn Gatland 3
Pens: Wharenui Hawera 3
Bay of Plenty 38-44 Auckland
Bay of Plenty:
Tries:Shahn Eru, Teddy Stanaway 2, Joe Tupe 3
Cons: Kelly Haimona 2, Dan Hollinshead 2
Tries:Rieko Ioane 3, Lolagi Visinia, Simon Hickey, Melani Nanai
Cons: Simon Hickey 4
Pens: Simon Hickey 2
Team of the Week - Round Six:
15 - Junior Ngaluafe (Southland):
Nelson Spartacus Junior Ngaluafe had two outstanding games this week, in the first he broke apart the Steamers' line and in the second he was a rock in the last line of defence.
Bubbling Under: Matt McGahan (North Harbour)
14 - Jonah Lowe (Hawkes' Bay):
A breakout match for the young wing. His break and offload led to the Magpies first try and his centring kick led to another, and his intercept try gave them a chance of drawing late. Special mention to Matt Duffie (North Harbour) who made a huge difference in their soggy win.
Bubbling Under: Johnny McNicholl (Canterbury)
13 - Rieko Ioane (Auckland):
The younger Ioane tops the competition for clean breaks, metres carried and defenders beaten. But he doesn't always need to break tackles, with his speed and swerve he just avoids them altogether.
Bubbling Under: Kieron Fonotia (Tasman)
12 - David Havili (Tasman):
Linked brilliantly with his Crusaders' teammate. Havili set up two tries and found acres of space for his outsides.
Bubbling Under: Teddy Stanaway (Bay of Plenty)
11 - Tevita Li (North Harbour):
His tactical nous was excellent as he outplayed the Stags' kick-chase game, scoring a brace and running brilliantly.
Bubbling Under: Sevu Reece (Waikato)
10 - Bryn Gatland (North Harbour):
Harbour finally have an all-round flyhalf. 6 from 6 on defence and 5 from 5 at goal, Gatland also took on the line with gusto, breaking three tackles and making 65 metres.
Bubbling Under: Wharenui Hawera (Southland)
9 - Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau):
Head and shoulders above every other scrum half in the competition.
Bubbling Under: Kylem O'Donnell (Taranaki)
8 - Peter Samu (Tasman):
Bookended his night with two spectacular runs, but it was in-between where he did all the hard work. He pips the competition's top-try scorer by way of his defensive acumen and becomes this week's Player of the Round.
Bubbling Under: Joe Tupe (Bay of Plenty)
7 - Elliot Dixon (Southland):
Showed Steve Hansen that he isn't afraid of doing the hard yards. He played a tight 80 minutes, with 10 carries, 9 dominant tackles, a turnover and a try.
Bubbling Under: Jordan Taufua (Counties Manukau)
6 - Christopher Vui (North Harbour):
North Harbour's directional forward on attack, taking on the line as well as distributing to the backs. But he also does not miss on defence with 9 tackles this week.
Bubbling Under: Brad Shields (Wellington)
5 - Leighton Price (Taranaki):
Masterminded his team's thrashing of Manawatu's line-out.
Bubbling Under: Mark Abbott (Hawkes' Bay)
4 - David McDuling (Canterbury):
Canterbury just keeps pumping out locks at its tight forward factory.
Bubbling Under: Viliame Rarasea (Counties Manukau)
3 - Kalolo Tuiloma (Counties Manukau):
The 140kg man-mountain racked up a quick three tries and if it wasn't for an concussion-enforced breather, he looked in the form to score more.
Bubbling Under: Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury)
2 - Asafo Aumua (Wellington):
Apart from his stunning hat-trick, he also put in a mountain of work on defence and showed glimpses of his All Black mentor.
Bubbling Under: Brayden Mitchell (Southland)
1 - Kane Hames (Tasman):
Known for his powerful scrummaging and defence, Hames showed his arsenal also contains an array of offloads.
Bubbling Under: Alex Hodgman (Canterbury)
Team of the week - Round Five: 15 Junior Ngaluafe (Southland), 14 Tima Fainga'anuku (Tasman), 13 Matt Vaega (North Harbour), 12 Tiaan Falcon (Hawkes' Bay), 11 Sevu Reece (Waikato), 10 Marty Banks (Tasman), 9 Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau), 8 Paul Grant (Otago), 7 Kara Pryor (Northland), 6 Harrison Brewer (Manawatu), 5 Jackson Hemopo (Manawatu), 4 Geoffrey Cridge (Hawkes' Bay), 3 Sosefo Kautai (Waikato), 2 Hame Faiva (Waikato), 1 Mitchell Graham (Taranaki
Team of the week - Round Four: 15 Jordan Trainor (Waikato), 14 Mitchell Scott (Otago), 13 Rieko Ioane (Auckland), 12 Rob Thompson (Canterbury), 11 George Bridge (Canterbury), 10 Damian McKenzie (Waikato), 9 Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau), 8 Luke Whitelock (Canterbury), 7 Akira Ioane (Auckland), 6 Jesse Parete (Bay of Plenty), 5 Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), 4 Scott Barrett (Canterbury), 3 Ben May (Hawkes' Bay), 2 Rhys Marshall (Taranaki), 1 Loni Uhila (Waikato)
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 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