Team of the week: From Top to flop
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal, in his weekly wrap, looks at some of the best matches in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
In the penultimate round of the NPC, two of last week's big winners became this week's big losers as Wellington and Auckland let in buckets of tries.
First up, Hurricanes' neighbours Manawatu knocked down the dividing fence and started throwing stones at Wellington. Manawatu's eight-try thumping included a four-try bag for their blind side flank Antonio Kirikiri, making him the competitions' fifth-ever four-try forward - behind Zinzan Brooke, John Mitchell, Rob Gordon and Liam Barry.
Wellington had enough ball but the Turbos' defence was too strong and their counter attack too swift. Manawatu thrashed their big brothers, 50-28.
With only a single week of the round robin left, Tasman seem like the big movers, going from a relegation possibility to playoff contenders as they have two games next week against Championship opponents.
On Thursday, the Makos went north on a high from winning their last three matches and ran out with intent. Auckland seemed lethargic early on and with their star backs, Melani Nanai and Rieko Ioane, shut down by an accurate rush defence, they didn't seem to have much else.
The scores were surprisingly close at half time but with strong substitutions from the Makos, including All Black prop Kane Hames, Tasman assert dominance at scrum time. As the rain came down, the penalties added up and Tasman pulled away from Auckland to end the match, 49-31.
Canterbury continued their winning ways during their first Ranfurly Shield defence against the invading North Harbour. Although the Premiership leaders' set piece was not as stable as usual, they set about their work making and breaking tackles until there was no Harbour defence left.
In the second half, the flood gates opened and North Harbour conceded 32 points, scoring a solitary penalty and ending the game 47-18 down.
Southland edged their Championship wooden-spoon rivals, Northland, in a willing and highly entertaining game. Although the Taniwha notched up almost twice as many carries as their southern foes, they simply could not break the Stags down.
In a stunning display of resilience, prop Joe Walsh and flank Bill Fukofuka each made over 20 tackles, with every starting Southland forward making more than 10. Northland couldn't build on last week's first win in over two years, falling behind 31-39 to Southland.
For the first time this season, Otago looked in danger of dropping out of first position in the Championship, when they hosted Counties Manukau in Dunedin. In was an intensely physical match and the result was built on defence and an extraordinary effort off the bench.
All up, Counties only missed six tackles from 91 attempts. Their bench did not miss a single tackle and included big showings by Pauliasi Manu, Toni Pulu and Hika Elliot, who made a massive impact to shut out a late rally by Otago.
Counties took the match, due to two late Joe Reynolds' penalties, 16-14.
After last week's abysmal failures, losing both the Ranfurly Shield and dropping five easy points to Northland, Waikato rebounded. They had to deal with some truly appalling officiating, when referee Brendon Pickerill ignored a straight-forward yellow card offence.
Hawkes' Bay's scrumhalf Chris Eaton, waiting in an offside position, shoulder charged Jordan Trainor without the ball, leaving him dazed on the ground after the cheap shot. Despite several head-knocks in the match, Trainor managed to rack up 16 points from the boot, a try and several assists to guide Waikato to a 46-22 victory.
Wellington's horror week continued when the Taranaki Bulls came to the capital on Sunday afternoon. Taranaki shot out to a 42-3 lead with mercurial Marty McKenzie setting up three tries and slotting 17 points off the tee.
The Lions began a small comeback after Jared Proffit was sin-binned for throwing a punch in retaliation to a headlock. But it was too little too late as Wellington let in 104 points for the week, losing 31-54 to the Premiership runners-up, Taranaki.
Bay of Plenty made a late surge for the Championship playoffs, pulling down Manawatu in the process. At sunny Rotorua Stadium, the Steamers' forward pack beat up on the Turbos, driving them back at scrum time and earning a multitude of penalties.
If it wasn't for Culum Retallick's early yellow card, the score might not have been so close. The penalty try and Jason Emery's excellent finish boosted Manawatu but not enough, as Bay of Plenty hit them with three second half tries to win, 38-33.
Score and scorers:
Manawatu 50-28 Wellington
Tries: Jason Emery 2, Antonio Kirikiri 4, Chris Eves, Callum Gibbins
Cons: Otere Black 5
Tries: Jason Woodward, Wes Goosen, Hoani Matenga, Galu Taufale
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 4
Auckland 31-49 Tasman
Tries: Scott Scrafton, Pryor Collier, Lolagi Visinia 2
Cons: Simon Hickey 4
Pen: Simon Hickey
Tries: David Havili, Tim Perry, Quinten Strange, Pete Samu
Cons: Marty Banks 4
Pens: Marty Banks 6, David Havili
Canterbury 47-18 North Harbour
Tries: Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Tom Sanders, Nathan Vella, Jack Stratton
Cons: Jordie Barrett 3, Richie Mo'unga
Pens: Jordie Barrett 3
Tries: Matt Vaega, Sione Mafileo
Con: Bryn Gatland
Pens: Bryn Gatland 2
Southland 39-31 Northland
Tries: Tauasosi Tuimavave, James Schrader 2, Mike Molloy, Wharenui Hawera
Cons: Wharenui Hawera 2, Greg Dyer 2
Pen: Wharenui Hawera
DG: Jimmy Cowan
Tries: Peter Breen, Phil Kite, Shane Neville, Aorangi Stokes, Jone Macilai-Tori
Cons: Peter Breen 3
Otago 14-16 Counties Manukau
Tries: Craig Millar, Naulia Dawai
Cons: Scott Eade 2
Try: Jimmy Tupou
Con: Piers Francis
Pens: Piers Francis, Joe Reynolds 2
Waikato 46-22 Hawkes' Bay
Tries: Jordan Trainor, Iliesa Ratuva 2, Willis Halaholo, Tau Koloamatangi, Jason Robertson
Cons: Jordan Trainor 5
Pens: Jordan Trainor 2
Tries: Penalty try, Mason Emerson, Tony Lamborn
Cons: Ihaia West 2
Pen: Ihaia West
Wellington 31-54 Taranaki
Tries: Joe Hill, Mark Reddish, Alex Fidow, James Blackwell
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 4
Pen: Jackson Garden-Bachop
Tries: Stephen Perofeta 3, Seta Tamanivalu, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Toa Halafihi, Jackson Ormond
Cons: Marty McKenzie 4, Stephen Perofeta
Pens: Marty McKenzie 3
Bay of Plenty 38-33 Manawatu
Bay of Plenty:
Tries: Te Aihe Toma, Aidan Ross, Shahn Eru, Henry Stowers, Jesse Parete
Cons: Dan Hollinshead 5
Pen: Dan Hollinshead
Tries: Pen Try, Ambrose Curtis, Jason Emery, Jamie Booth, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis
Cons: Otere Black 4
Team of the Week - Round Eight:
15 - Jordan Trainor (Waikato):
This young man has a very bright future and wins the Player of the Round award for his stunning performance this week.
Bubbling Under: Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki)
14 - Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty):
The Chiefs' development player has burst onto the scene this year and has the seventh highest metres and defenders beaten in the competition.
Bubbling Under: Iliesa Ratuva (Waikato)
13 - Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki):
Was a constant threat to Wellington up the middle. Tamanivalu was moved to the wing early in the second half and continued to cause problems. Special mention to Jaye Thompson (Southland) and Willis Halaholo (Waikato) who had tremendous games.
Bubbling Under: Robbie Fruean (Hawkes' Bay)
12 - David Havili (Tasman):
Was involved in most of the Makos' tries and his brilliant 60-metre conversion announced his kicking credentials to the Crusaders.
Bubbling Under: James Schrader (Southland)
11 - George Bridge (Canterbury)
The two best left wings this round shared the stage in Christchurch. Bridge wins the spot due to his superior defence.
Bubbling Under: Tevita Li (North Harbour)
10 - Richie Mo'unga (Canterbury):
The Crusaders' playmaker is blossoming with his reduced goal-kicking responsibility. He scored from a brilliant solo effort, set up several more tries, kicked well from hand and ran the backline superbly.
Bubbling Under: Marty McKenzie (Taranaki)
9 - Jamie Booth (Manawatu):
Was excellent in both outings this week. Booth shows a particular talent around the fringes of rucks and has a good box-kick.
Bubbling Under: Pele Cowley (Waikato)
8 - Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Manawatu)
There are so many excellent No.8s in the NPC right now that it's hard to choose just one each week. This week it has to go to the Turbos' heart and soul.
Bubbling Under: Whetu Douglas (Waikato)
7 - Shane Christie (Tasman)
The Highlanders' captain epitomises the hard-working open side flank. He is regularly overlooked, however, with 17 tackles (none missed) and 12 carries, he helped shut down his opposite number, the second highest tackle breaker in the competition.
Bubbling Under: Galu Taufale (Wellington)
6 - Antonio Kirikiri (Manawatu):
More than just his fancy finishing, he got stuck in on defence, at line-out time and stole a breakdown off Wellington. Special mention to Bill Fukofuka (Southland) for his 22 tackles.
Bubbling Under: Tom Sanders (Canterbury)
5 - Quinten Strange (Tasman)
All around the field, this hard man smashed opponents back time and again ... and then picked himself up a try.
Bubbling Under: Leighton Price (Taranaki)
4 - Scott Barrett (Canterbury):
The least well-known of the Barrett brothers, big Scott was heavily involved at breaking up Harbour's line-out, while also putting in work on defence and carrying the ball 14 times for 60 metres. Not bad for a lock.
Bubbling Under: Scott Scrafton (Auckland)
3 - Siegfried Fisi'ihoi (Bay of Plenty):
A massive effort in the scrums, the dominance the Steamers had here set the platform for their victory.
Bubbling Under: Kalolo Tuiloma (Counties Manukau)
2 - Rhys Marshall (Taranaki):
The set piece master threw in 14 times without having a single one stolen. He was also the centre piece for a very successful scrum.
Bubbling Under: Ben Funnell (Canterbury)
1 - Joe Walsh (Southland):
An absolute machine on defence, while not shirking his scrummaging duties.
Bubbling Under: Chris Eves (Manawatu)
Team of the week - Round Seven: 15 Jordan Trainor (Waikato), 14 Jason Woodward (Wellington), 13 Rieko Ioane (Auckland), 12 Jordie Barrett (Canterbury), 11 Tevita Li (North Harbour), 10 Simon Hickey (Auckland), 9 Jack Stratton (Canterbury), 8 Luke Whitelock (Canterbury), 7 Akira Ioane (Auckland), 6 Taleni Seu (Auckland), 5 Liaki Moli (Auckland), 4 Scott Scrafton (Auckland), 3 Ben May (Hawkes' Bay), 2 Rhys Marshall (Taranaki), 1 Tolu Fahamokioa (Hawkes' Bay)
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