TEAM OF THE WEEK: NO HURRICANES LEFT
NPC SPOTLIGHT: rugby365 columnist Richard Neal in his weekly wrap, looks at the semifinals in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
Proving that a team is more than the sum of its parts, the final feeder province of the Super Rugby Champions, the Hurricanes, was knocked out of the competition by the only remaining partner of the Blues to make the play-offs, North Harbour.
This means all three Hurricanes' provinces will challenge Division Two in 2017, as Manawatu just missed the semifinals and Hawkes' Bay are getting relegated.
Due to long-term neglect, Taranaki switched allegiances to the Chiefs and, along with Counties-Manukau and Bay of Plenty, made the play-offs ... although all three were knocked out this week.
The Crusaders' only two provinces are challenging the Premiership Final.
Canterbury topped the Premiership and Tasman was not too far behind.
Otago is the sole Highlanders representative in the play-offs.
It's business time and the teams that have performed consistently throughout the season need to show they deserve their shot at glory.
First up on Friday, Championship leaders Otago, who started the season with six consecutive victories, took on Bay of Plenty, who snuck into the play-offs with a mere three wins from 10 games.
Otago's forwards took the battle to the Steamers, scoring all three of their tries and all but shutting out the visitors with some brutal defence.
But with the score at 24-13 early in the second half, otherwise excellent lock Tom Franklin committed a nasty, off-the-ball armless challenge to get himself sin-binned.
Otago's defence and breakdown work have been fantastic all year and, although Bay of Plenty picked up their pace in the later stages, it wasn't enough, going down 27-20.
North Harbour, in their first semifinal since 2006, started with a bang. A penalty and a Matt Vaega intercept to set up Tevita Li gave them a 0-10 lead.
Jackson Garden-Bachop kicked through for hooker Leni Apisai to score and Jason Woodward made a long break to set up Wes Goosen for Wellington to pull ahead.
But right on the stroke of half time, Tevita Li intercepted a wayward pass and Bryn Hall chipped beautifully to force a five-metre scrum.
Harbour's workhorse Glenn Preston then slipped between two tacklers and under another to put North Harbour in front 20-18 going into the break.
Harbour struck again right after half time with a well constructed maul which saw powerful prop Nic Mayhew dive over.
Yet another intercept saw Vaea Fifita (who had the worst game of his career, missing almost every tackle he attempted) give away an easy penalty that put Harbour 30-18 up.
The Lions again roared back to even the scores, through a wide Joe Hill try and another excellent maul leading to hooker Asafo Aumua's sixth try of the season.
Tevita Li showed why he is so highly rated, breaking another couple of tackles before passing to Daniel Hilton Jones to touch down.
Wellington scored a consolation try but it is North Harbour who goes through to the final for the first time in 22 years. They will face Otago next week following their thrilling 37-40 victory.
Canterbury based their game plan around solid defence and utilising the breakdown laws to their fullest by flooding rucks to produce turnover ball.
Seventeen points up at half time meant the southerners could relax and that let Counties back into the match.
The Steelers finally got some ball and set up camp on Canterbury's line for long periods of the second stanza.
However, Canterbury's defence was rock solid only letting in Jordan Taufua after 20 minutes of sustained attack.
Replacement blindside Billy Harmon then killed off the match as a contest and the score remained 22-7 until the end.
Tasman's match followed their season, starting slowly but building for a strong end.
Taranaki seemed dominant in the first half, scoring twice and threatening the Makos often.
But at the 36-minute mark, Alex Nankivell broke twice before going over for a great solo effort, followed up by Billy Guyton setting up Mitch Hunt.
Then just after half-time, Guyton sniped from four metres out to score one of his own and extend the lead to 19 points.
Rhys Marshall and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi combined brilliantly for a one-two off a line-out at halfway, racing the rest of the way and restoring some hope to Bulls' supporters.
The super-subs started arriving, with Kane Hames for Tasman who set about turning Taranaki's vaunted scrum to mud. And Waisake Naholo who brought added excitement to the Bulls' backline.
Some superb passing led to a try out wide to Declan O'Donnell, plus a great team try to Captain Mitchell Crosswell put them only five points short with seven minutes on the clock.
Tasman's forwards then took over. A massive scrum, a stolen line out and 27 forward drives, ending in Marty Banks going over for the winning try, 41-29.
Score and scorers:
Otago 27-20 Bay of Plenty
Tries:Tom Franklin, Naulia Dawai, James Lentjes
Cons: Fletcher Smith 3
Pens: Fletcher Smith 2
Bay of Plenty:
Tries:Lalakai Foketi, Terrence Hepetema
Cons: Dan Hollinshead, Te Aihe Toma
Pens: Dan Hollinshead 2
Wellington 37-40 North Harbour
Tries:Leni Apisai, Wes Goosen, Joe Hill, Asafo Aumua, Sheriden Rangihuna
Cons: Jackson Garden-Bachop 3
Pens: Jackson Garden-Bachop 2
Tries:Tevita Li, Glenn Preston, Nic Mayhew, Daniel Hilton Jones
Cons: Bryn Gatland 4
Pens: Bryn Gatland 4
Canterbury 22-7 Counties Manukau
Tries: Ben Funnell, Jordie Barrett, Billy Harmon
Cons: Jordie Barrett 2
Pen: Jordie Barrett
Con: Luteru Laulala
Taranaki 29-41 Tasman
Tries:Seta Tamanivalu, Jonathan Fa'auli, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Declan O'Donnell, Mitchell Crosswell
Cons: Marty McKenzie 2
Tries:Ross Geldenhuys, Alex Nankivell, Mitch Hunt, Billy Guyton, Marty Banks
Cons: Marty Banks 5
Pens: Marty Banks 2
Team of the Week - Semifinals:
15 - Toni Pulu (Counties Manukau):
A superb game from the winger-cum-full back, making the most metres of the round and being one of the only weapons to hurt Canterbury.
Bubbling Under: Mitch Hunt (Tasman)
14 - Declan O'Donnell (Taranaki):
Was part of a dangerous Bulls' backline, O'Donnell got involved throughout the match and threatened often.
Bubbling Under: Joe Hill (Wellington)
13 - Matt Faddes (Otago):
Has grown into an excellent all-round centre, with perfect defence and quick reflexes.
Bubbling Under: Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki)
12 - Jordie Barrett (Canterbury):
Barrett deserves his All Blacks internment after a great season. Shut down a lightning quick Counties midfield with his 16 tackles, picked up a try and kicked 7 points. Special mention to Teihorangi Walden (Otago) who would have been a shoo-in any other round.
Bubbling Under: Alex Nankivell (Tasman)
11 - Wes Goosen (Wellington):
The two left wingers showed the rest of the competition how it's done, making life hard for their opponents and breaking the line often.
Bubbling Under: Tevita Li (North Harbour)
10 - Marty Banks (Tasman):
Banks is finishing his time in New Zealand on a high. He directed traffic superbly, kicked 7 from 9 and picked himself up the winning try.
Bubbling Under: Fletcher Smith (Otago)
9 - Billy Guyton (Tasman):
Was on hand for three of his teams tries, setting up two and taking a tiny gap for one of his own.
Bubbling Under: Te Toirua Tahuriorangi (Taranaki)
8 - Joe Tupe (Bay of Plenty):
The definition of workhorse. 20 carries, made all 8 tackle attempts stick, took 3 line outs and was a successful link with 14 passes and 4 offloads.
Bubbling Under: Luke Whitelock (Canterbury)
7 - James Lentjes (Otago):
Added attacking impetus to his huge defensive work rate of 18 tackles plus 2 turnovers. Player of the Round performance!
Bubbling Under: Shane Christie (Tasman)
6 - Jordan Taufua (Counties Manukau):
Another powerful performance by the Steelers' big hitter.
Bubbling Under: Glenn Preston (North Harbour)
5 - Pari Pari Parkinson (Tasman):
The hard working lock did everything expected of him, plus a bit more, stealing a Taranaki line out when they were gaining momentum.
Bubbling Under: Christopher Vui (North Harbour)
4 - Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (North Harbour):
Wreaked havoc on Wellington's line out, stealing two off their throw.
Bubbling Under: Scott Barrett (Canterbury)
3 - Siate Tokolahi (Canterbury):
Another giant performance from the giant prop.
Bubbling Under: Siegfried Fisi'ihoi (Bay of Plenty)
2 - Ben Funnell (Canterbury):
Funnell put in another workman-like performance, tackling like a demon, accurate at the line out and bagging a try. Special mention to Hika Elliot (Counties Manukau) who was into everything and solid as always.
Bubbling Under: Sam Anderson-Heather (Otago)
1 - Nic Mayhew (North Harbour):
Accurate on defence, with 10 tackles, none missed, got involved on attack, grabbing a try off a maul and caused the Lions' scrum some concern.
Bubbling Under: Kane Hames (Tasman)
Team of the week - Round Nine: 15 Melani Nanai (Auckland), 14 Declan O'Donnell (Taranaki), 13 Sam Vaka (Counties Manukau), 12 Michael Little (North Harbour) 11 James Lowe (Tasman) 10 Damian McKenzie (Waikato) 9 Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau) 8 Naulia Dawai (Otago) 7 Jordan Taufua (Counties Manukau) 6 Tom Sanders (Canterbury) 5 Blair Tweed (Otago) 4 Jacob Skeen (Waikato) 3 Ross Geldenhuys (Tasman) 2 Andrew Makalio (Tasman) 1 Pauliasi Manu (Counties Manukau)
Team of the week - Round Eight: 15 Jordan Trainor (Waikato), 14 Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty), 13 Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki), 12 David Havili (Tasman), 11 George Bridge (Canterbury), 10 Richie Mo'unga (Canterbury), 9 Jamie Booth (Manawatu), 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Manawatu), 7 Shane Christie (Tasman), 6 Antonio Kirikiri (Manawatu), 5 Quinten Strange (Tasman), 4 Scott Barrett (Canterbury), 3 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi (Bay of Plenty), 2 Rhys Marshall (Taranaki), 1 Joe Walsh (Southland)
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