TEAM OF THE WEEK: LOG O' WOOD HAS NEW HOME
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal, in his weekly wrap, looks at some of the best matches in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
Round seven of the NPC was a round for large score lines, including two of the best match-ups so far this season (both against Canterbury), Southland's total annihilation and one of the biggest upsets in the competition's history.
In the game of the season so far, Canterbury went to skilful Waikato to wrestle the Ranfurly Shield from their grasp.
It was Test-match intensity from the Premiership sides - with moments of brilliance, including Waikato's second try from a perfect Sam Christie chip, collected by speedy Jordan Trainor, who stepped and offloaded to his captain for the score, straight out of Stephen Donald's playbook.
No matter what the Mooloos threw at them, Canterbury always hit back and extended an eight-point half time lead.
Waikato levelled the scores, 15 minutes from time, with an incredible solo try to Fijian wing Iliesa Ratuva, but Canterbury's set piece dominance saw them pull away again with two final penalties to take the Shield south with a 29-23 win.
On a heavy and very wet surface, Tasman hosted Counties Manukau. The game never really got started and with only Counties' centre Sam Vaka and flank Jordan Taufua making any real inroads on attack, Tasman eventually kicked them to death courtesy of five Marty Banks penalties.
Counties came out highly physical, but their misplaced aggression conceded penalty upon penalty, eventually losing star player Augustine Pulu to the bin just before half-time.
The game came down to the last play. A five-metre line-out was driven on for four slow phases until the Steelers breakdown discipline failed again and the Tasman Makos held on for a slim 15-10 victory.
In one of the biggest routs of the season, Wellington totally outclassed cellar-dwellers Southland with a nine-try-to-three thumping.
The game was effectively over at half-time, as Wellington sped out to a 24-point lead, but they weren't finished there.
The capital city put on a show in the second half with 4 more extraordinary tries in a massively dominant display to trounce Southland 60-21.
In another high-scoring match, North Harbour and Bay of Plenty touched down 11 times between them.
North Harbour's positional play and kicking for corners gave them valuable attacking ball which they used efficiently to slowly suffocate the Steamers and run out 44-34 victors.
To say Manawatu Stadium was drenched would be an understatement. There were pools of water in one corner which almost covered the players' shoes.
That may have distracted Hawkes' Bay who started slowly, but when they hit their stride the Turbos just couldn't keep up.
The powerful Magpies' forwards did all the hard work in the atrocious conditions and deserve much of the credit for the 21-30 win by the visitors.
Saturday's final match was the first time this season that runaway Championship leaders, Otago, have looked flustered.
The visitors began making simple errors due to the power and pace of Auckland's forwards.
Auckland have arguably the best loose trio in the NPC, with veteran Steven Luatua, athletic Taleni Seu and energetic Akira Ioane causing Otago all sorts of trouble.
This was one of the fastest paced games so far and Auckland finally showed their full potential, after several rounds of mixed form.
Auckland's star centre, Rieko Ioane, picked up another hat-trick making him just the fourth player in the competition's history to score triples on consecutive weeks (the other three are John Timu, Deon Muir and Brendan Laney).
In extra time, Otago picked up a consolation try, but it was too little, too late as Auckland won 54-17.
As an aside, Rieko and Akira Ioane have beaten 55 and 54 defenders respectively, while the third highest is a mere 25 defenders beaten.
On Sunday, Canterbury played their short-turnaround match against Taranaki, in an incredibly tough, but again, high-scoring affair.
With the rain still pelting the North Island, Canterbury set about their work, accurately disposing of attacks and making passes stick in very difficult conditions.
Both teams were highly accurate, the difference was in the goal-kicking, where the usually precise Marty McKenzie (81 percent for the season) slotted only five from his eight attempts.
Although Taranaki tried desperately to catch Canterbury's expansive lead and scored two tries in the last 8 minutes, they couldn't pick up the win, with a Jordie Barrett penalty killing off the contest late and making it 34-39.
The final match of the round was between long-time losers Northland and recent Ranfurly Shield losers Waikato.
The Mooloos started lethargically in Whangarei and seemed depressed with Wednesday's Shield loss.
Northland, spurred on by the return of their main playmaker, flyhalf Peter Breen, directed play with aplomb and pinned Waikato back.
Then the hosts struck, shocking Waikato into mistake after mistake with brutal defence and swift offence.
Northland stretched their lead through a superb forwards' try to Phil Kite and brilliant link play between Kara Pryor and Matt Matich.
Although Waikato hit back, they didn't have the energy or conviction to overhaul such a large deficit and eventually trundled back down the motorway with the embarrassing record of being the team to end the longest losing streak in NPC history, 48-27.
Score and scorers:
Waikato 23-29 Canterbury
Tries:Jordan Manihera, Whetu Douglas, Iliesa Ratuva
Con: Jordan Trainor
Pens: Jordan Trainor 2
Tries:Ben Funnell, Johnny McNicholl
Cons: Richie Mo'unga 2
Pens: Richie Mo'unga 2, Jordie Barrett 3
Tasman 15-10 Counties Manukau
Pens:Marty Banks 5
Con: Piers Francis
Pen: Piers Francis
Wellington 60-21 Southland
Tries:Vaea Fifita, Greg Foe, Matt Proctor, Wes Goosen, Jason Woodward, Malo Tuitama 2, Asafo Aumua, Galu Taufale
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 6
Pen: Jackson Garden-Bachop
Tries:Jahvis Wallace, Wharenui Hawera, Keanu Kahukura
Cons: Wharenui Hawera 2, Greg Dyer
North Harbour 44-34 Bay of Plenty
Tries:Christopher Vui, Tevita Li 2, Matt Vaega, Nic Mayhew, Matt Duffie
Cons: Bryn Gatland 4
Pens: Bryn Gatland 2
Bay of Plenty:
Tries:Teddy Stanaway, Monty Ioane, Henry Stowers, Joe Royal, Jesse Parete
Cons: Dan Hollinshead 3
Pen: Dan Hollinshead
Manawatu 21-30 Hawkes' Bay
Tries:Travis Taylor 2, Tim Cadwallader
Pens: Otere Black 2
Tries:Mark Abbott, Robbie Fruean
Con: Ihaia West
Pens: Ihaia West 6
Auckland 54-17 Otago
Tries:Rieko Ioane 3, Taleni Seu, Lolagi Visinia, Melani Nanai, Simon Hickey
Cons: Simon Hickey 5
Pens: Simon Hickey 3
Tries:Donald Bridghouse, Jonah Aoina
Cons: Fletcher Smith, Scott Eade
Pen: Fletcher Smith
Taranaki 34-39 Canterbury
Tries:Rhys Marshall, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Stephen Perofeta, Toa Halafihi
Con: Marty McKenzie
Pens: Marty McKenzie 4
Tries:Luke Whitelock 2, Jordie Barrett, Jack Stratton, Richie Mo'unga
Cons: Jordie Barrett 4
Pens: Jordie Barrett 2
Northland 48-27 Waikato
Tries:Jordan Hyland, Phil Kite, Matt Matich, Jone Macilai-Tori, Dan Hawkins
Cons: Peter Breen 4
Pens: Peter Breen 5
Tries:Jordan Trainor, Sosefo Kautai, Whetu Douglas
Cons: Jordan Trainor 2
Pen: Jordan Trainor
Team of the Week - Round Seven:
15 - Jordan Trainor (Waikato):
In a game with the two top fullbacks of the round, Trainor stood above all with a masterful performance that occasionally looked like he could win it alone. Special mention to Melani Nanai (Auckland) who is back to his Super Rugby form.
Bubbling Under: Johnny McNicholl (Canterbury)
14 - Jason Woodward (Wellington):
The spark that ignited a succession of fires that Southland's backline couldn't put out.
Bubbling Under: Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty)
13 - Rieko Ioane (Auckland):
The most tries, the most defenders beaten, the most metres, the most clean breaks ...
Bubbling Under: Sam Vaka (Counties Manukau)
12 - Jordie Barrett (Canterbury):
The youngest Barrett brother is a rare talent and his all-round game is improving every match. Special mention to Wes Goosen (Wellington), playing out of position without showing it.
Bubbling Under: David Havili (Tasman)
11 - Tevita Li (North Harbour):
The under-20s star is winning this position almost every week. His kick-chase game has improved in leaps and bounds (please excuse the weak pun).
Bubbling Under: Malo Tuitama (Wellington)
10 - Simon Hickey (Auckland):
Is hitting his best form at the right end of the competition. The younger Hickey brother is able to kick accurately, set up his outsides or break the line. And he seems to be choosing the right option each time.
Bubbling Under: Peter Breen (Northland)
9 - Jack Stratton (Canterbury):
Had to come on in just the third minute against Taranaki. Stratton took his options, ran well from the base and made solid contestable kicks.
Bubbling Under: Thomas Palu (Wellington)
8 - Luke Whitelock (Canterbury):
Was a rock against Waikato and then carried that form on against close-rivals Taranaki. Whitelock scored a brace in his second game. He made 24 carries and 17 tackles this round.
Bubbling Under: Iopu Iopu-Aso (Taranaki)
7 - Akira Ioane (Auckland):
If he continues this form he may not have to wait too long until he gets a call up to the All Blacks.
Bubbling Under: Jordan Taufua (Counties Manukau)
6 - Taleni Seu (Auckland):
Prodigiously talented, Seu gets involved in the tight game, but his speciality is his deceptive pace off the mark. Special mention to Christopher Vui (North Harbour's captain), who is the lifeblood of his team.
Bubbling Under: Vaea Fifita (Wellington)
5 - Liaki Moli (Auckland):
Puts in the hard work, this round he made 17 tackles, missed none and picked up a turnover.
Bubbling Under: Mark Abbott (Hawkes' Bay)
4 - Scott Scrafton (Auckland):
Along with his locking partner, he is the driving force behind a dominant forward pack. Stole a line-out, won a turnover and made 15 tackles, missing none.
Bubbling Under: Tom Robinson (Northland)
3 - Ben May (Hawkes' Bay):
A big part of a dominant Magpies' scrum and didn't miss a tackle.
Bubbling Under: Marcel Renata (Auckland)
2 - Rhys Marshall (Taranaki):
Superb with ball in hand, this hard-working hooker is the epitome of a grafter.
Bubbling Under: Ash Dixon (Hawkes' Bay)
1 - Tolu Fahamokioa (Hawkes' Bay):
A gigantic showing in his first match this season, the one-time Hurricane may have given away a few penalties but his power in close and at scrum time more than made up for it.
Bubbling Under: Alex Hodgman (Canterbury)
Team of the week - Round Six: 15 Junior Ngaluafe (Southland), 14 Jonah Lowe (Hawkes' Bay), 13 Rieko Ioane (Auckland), 12 David Havili (Tasman), 11 Tevita Li (North Harbour), 10 Bryn Gatland (North Harbour), 9 Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau), 8 Peter Samu (Tasman), 7 Elliot Dixon (Southland), 6 Christopher Vui (North Harbour), 5 Leighton Price (Taranaki), 4 David McDuling (Canterbury), 3 Kalolo Tuiloma (Counties Manukau), 2 Asafo Aumua (Wellington), 1 Kane Hames (Tasman)
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