ITM Cup - Round 9
Waikato rise to the top
ESPNscrum Staff
August 14, 2011
Canterbury lock Luke Romano stretches the Northland defence, Northland v Canterbury, ITM Cup, Rugby Park, Christchurch, New Zealand, August 14, 2011
Canterbury's Luke Romano puts his foot down against Northland © Getty Images

Waikato moved top of the ITM Cup standings thanks to a 25-10 win over Otago in Hamilton on Sunday.

The Mooloos scored four tries - to Henry Speight, Brendon Leonard, Declan O'Donnell and Marcel Cummings-Toone - to claim a bonus point win and leapfrog Taranaki into pole position in the table. Otago could only manage a solitary try to Buxton Popoalii and were kept scoreless in the second-half despite playing with a helpful wind.

Speight, who played fro the Brumbies in this year's Super Rugby tournament, gave Waikato the lead after stepping inside two tacklers to cross out wide, while Leonard added a second midway through the half.

Popoalii then stepped his way past four defenders from 38 metres out to grab a memorable try but a sweeping Waikato counter-attack, launched from deep within their own half, was rounded off by replacement winger O'Donnell to restore their advantage.

The home side were then recipients of a generous decision by the TMO, who awarded a try to hooker Cummings-Toone when he appeared to have dropped the ball over the line.

Also on Sunday, Canterbury saw off Northland 28-13 in Christchurch.

Having survived the elements in the first-half, Canterbury's dominance built as the game wore on and lock Luke Romano crashed over to give them the lead nine minutes into the second-half.

Penalties then followed by young first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal and his replacement Tom Taylor as Canterbury eased out to 23-13. They ended the game with an exclamation mark when fullback Johnny McNicholl crossed for his side's bonus point fourth try following a sharp break by Taylor.

Earlier, Northland made much the better start to be 13-0 up after 21 minutes thanks to the goal-kicking of wing Lachie Munro and an opportunist try to No.8 Cameron Goodhue, who latched on to a loose pass deep in Canterbury territory to dot down.

Taranaki remain in the hunt at the top after a narrow 26-23 victory over Tasman on Friday evening.

The home side had Andre Taylor to thank with the winger contributing a 16 point haul that included a try, four penalties and a conversion. However, it was not all plain sailing for the home side and they went 10-0 down early in the first-half thanks to Andrew Goodman running in a try and kicking a penalty for the visitors. However, Taranaki hit back through winger Jackson Ormond with Taylor adding the extra two from the tee. And following a trade of penalties between Goodman and Taylor -Taranaki went into the break 16-13 down.

Following two Taylor penalties and a superb 55 metre try in the 65th minute Taranaki took the lead. Taylor wrong footed Mark White and sprinted down the touchline to score a sensational solo-effort. Taylor handed the kicking duties to Jack Cameron who knocked the conversion over with aplomb.With 10 minutes left on the clock replacement lock Hamish Cochrane bundled over the line to secure a losing bonus-point. It proved to be scant consolation for a match they led for 51 minutes.

Auckland picked up their third straight victory win on end with an unconvincing 25-22 victory over Counties Manukau in their clash at Eden Park on Thursday night. Auckland fly-half Gareth Anscombe steered his side home with a 20-point haul courtesy of six penalties and a conversion following winger George Moala's second half try. A try from winger Sherwin Stowers and the boot of No.10 Baden Kerr had given Counties the edge at the break but their hopes took a blow with a yellow card for prop Simon Lemalu early in the second half. The two teams exchanged penalties for the rest of the match, with Auckland lucky to escape with the win after Lemalu dived over for Counties in the 81st minute but was ruled to have been off his feet when he played the ball.

Aaron Cruden created two tries and kicked 16 points as Manawatu humbled Wellington 31-25 in Wellington on Saturday. Cruden, who failed to claim a place in the All Blacks' Tri-Nations squad, gave a timely reminder of his skills as the Turbos inflicted a second defeat in two years on Wellington who remain rooted at the foot of the Premiership table and in danger of being relegated to the Championship division next season.

Manawatu are a contender to replace them in the top echelon and had Cruden and a powerful forward effort to thank for the result which leaves them level on points with Hawke's Bay at the top of the championship table. Cruden created tries for New Zealand sevens star Tomasi Cama and flanker Callum Gibbons as well as landing a long distance drop-goal and a further 13 points from the tee. Centre Asalei Tikoirotuma also crossed for the Turbos.

Dane Coles touched down twice for Wellington while Jeremy Thrush, who was earlier sinbinned after a charge on Cruden, scored after the full-time hooter to grab a point for the hosts.

All Blacks utility back Israel Dagg made a try-scoring return to action for Hawke's Bay as the Magpies crushed Bay of Plenty 32-13 in Rotorua. Dagg will fly to South Africa on Sunday along with winger Zac Guildford, to combine with the rest of the All Blacks squad for their Tri-Nations test against the Springboks next Saturday. He and Guildford, who grabbed two tries, were both prominent as Hawke's Bay, despite a dearth of possession in the first half, had too much attacking ability for their premiership opponents.

Aside from Dagg's try, three minutes after coming on as a replacement in the 30th minute, halfback Kahn Fotuali'i dotted down in the first half and second five-eighths Andrew Horrell's boot ensured the visitors took a 17-3 into the break. Guildford benefitted from Dagg's pace to grab a try late in the second half and added a second after the final whistle for a precious bonus point win.

Southland showed their bottle to repulse a stirring challenge for the Ranfurly Shield and claim a 25-23 victory over North Harbour in Invercargill on Saturday. They escaped after a last minute try from feisty scrum-half Scott Cowan saw them draw level before Justin Wilson added the conversion. North Harbour entered the clash with little hope after posting just one win in six outings, but they played above themselves with a committed, disciplined and robust performance which at one stage looked destined to see them win the shield for just the second time in the province's history.

Ultimately they were denied by a Southland side who battled back from a 7-20 half-time deficit and the game-breaker from Cowan which came when a series of tapped penalties near the North Harbour line ended with replacement hooker Jason Rutledge diving towards the padding around the base of the left-hand goalpost. Rutledge came up centimetres short but Cowan was on hand to force the ball, leaving referee Chris Pollock to award the try, Cowan's second for the game.

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