ITM Cup: Round Nine
Northland finish season winless, Auckland secure home-field advantage
ESPN Staff
October 11, 2015
Otago's Peter Breen takes the ball into contact © Getty Images

Otago 43-30 Bay of Plenty

Otago rounded out the home-and-away action with a comprehensive victory against Bay of Plenty, their fifth win on the spin, to warm up for their ITM Cup Championship promotion play-off against Wellington Lions.

The Razorbacks led 29-16 at half-time, after tries from Naulia Dawai and Matt Faddes and controversial scores for Tony Ensor and Liam Coltman, and they put the fixture to bed when Faddes crossed again and Fletcher Smith followed up to move out to a 43-16 lead shortly after the restart.

Bay of Plenty replied with Culum Retallick's second try of the match before Nick Evemy reduced the gap to 13 points with 20 minutes to play, but that was as close as they would get in preparation for their own play-off against Hawke's Bay in Napier.

North Harbour 36-12 Northland

Northland recorded their fourth winless season in history after slumping to their 10th defeat in as many ITM Cup matches this year, the Taniwha struggling for penetration on the back of a short turnaround.

Matt Wright scored moments from half-time to give the Taniwha a glimmer of hope, after Pita Ahki and James Parsons had posted tries as the hosts claimed a 17-0 lead, but North Harbour returned with renewed vigour in the second stanza.

Parsons posted his second try of the afternoon, from a lineout drive, before Isimeli Taqea scored on debut to reduce the margin to 12 points, but Ray Niuia and Nafi Tuitavake scored in the final quarter to ensure the home victory.

Counties Manukau 16-31 Auckland

Auckland secured home advantage in the ITM Cup play-offs with a bruising win in Pukekohe on Saturday. The victory edged Auckland into second place on the Premiership table - six points behind leaders Canterbury and one point ahead of third-placed Tasman, who they'll meet at Eden Park on Friday.

Bryce Heem scored all three of Auckland's tries, with replacement half-back Jono Hickey's kicking a key element in their seventh win of the season.

Heem's power in attacking the Counties' line yielded his first try after 15 minutes, but Ma'ama Vaipulu proved unstoppable from close range 10 minutes later to level the scores. A head clash then left the Counties No.8 streaming blood, but he returned to the fray with six stitches sealing the wound as the home team took an 8-5 lead into half-time courtesy of a Piers Francis penalty.

Counties took a 13-8 lead 10 minutes after the restart, when Vaipulu crashed over from a short, sharp and unstoppable line-out drive for his second. To make matters worse for Auckland, prop Sam Prattley was stretchered off with a neck injury after trying to halt Counties' drive to the line.

Auckland reclaimed the lead, with Heem touching down again after George Moala had made a break and linked with midfield partner Charles Piutau, before another Francis penalty put Counties back in the box seat.

Hickey then kicked three consecutive penalties, including one 50-metre effort, before Heem wrapped up the win in stoppage time with his third try.

Manawatu saved their best rugby for their last match as they took down Wellington © Getty Images

Wellington 33-39 Manawatu

Manawatu saved their best rugby of the season until last, holding off a storming finish from Wellington on Saturday to win their NPC cross-over match 39-33 at Westpac Stadium.

Despite managing their third win of the season, Manawatu remain mired at the bottom of the Premiership, while Wellington pick up an invaluable bonus point which secures second place and a home semi-final in the Championship.

Both teams ran in five tries apiece, Otere Black's accuracy with the boot proving vital in nailing two key penalties. Manawatu blasted out of the blocks with a try to skipper Callum Gibbins inside the first minute as Wellington tried to run the ball out from their own tryline.

A loose pass went into touch, Manawatu hooker Nick Grogan took the quick throw in and Gibbins was across. Wellington skipper Ardie Savea responded four minutes later, going over in the corner after good work down the right touchline from winger Jason Woodward.

But Wellington continued to struggle at scrum time and at the breakdown, and their passing accuracy was patchy at best. Manawatu made the most of their chances from the resulting turnovers, flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and halfback Toby Morland both crossing to extend their lead to 19-5 after 15 minutes.

Wellington hit back when Woodward touched down in the corner five minutes later, but Black's reliable boot nailed a late penalty to give the visitors a 22-12 lead at half-time.

Second-half tries to Tudreu brothers Nathan and Newtown extended the Turbos' lead, with Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen crossing for Wellington as Manawatu went into the final 14 minutes with a 39-19 lead. Wellington stormed back with tries to Reg Goodes and Jackson Garden-Bachop, narrowing the margin to just six with five minutes remaining, but Manawatu's defence held firm.

Canterbury were clinical in their win © Getty Images

Canterbury 39-20 Southland

Canterbury underlined their position at the top of the Premiership table with an emphatic 39-20 win over Southland in their NPC cross-over match in Christchurch on Saturday. The win, their ninth of the season, puts them seven points clear of second-placed Tasman with Auckland a further three points back with a game in hand.

Barring a sub-par defensive effort late in the first half, Canterbury looked well in control in running in five tries to Southland's two.

Canterbury were all business early on, piling on 20 unanswered points in as many minutes. Two quick Richie Mo'unga penalties were supplemented by Ryan Crotty's 17th minute try from a fiery Canterbury lineout drive to give the home team a 13-0 lead. The canny centre also set up Canterbury's second after lock Ben Matwijow's charge-down forced the turnover, with Crotty's kick falling perfectly for winger Johnny McNicholl to cross for his sixth try of the season.

But at 20-0 up, Canterbury's defensive intensity lapsed and Southland came storming back, sparked by some outstanding work at the breakdown from their big men. Hooker Dillon Halaholo barged his way over as the half-hour mark neared, then young winger Mike Molloy latched onto Tauasosi Tuimavave's inside ball to score.

Lima Sopoaga's conversion meant Canterbury went into the break with a 20-17 lead, the Southland first five-eighth adding another penalty shortly after the restart to level the scores. But from then on, it was all Canterbury. Second five-eighth Rob Thompson bagged two in the space of five minutes before 21-year-old flanker Tom Sanders burrowed across from yet another attacking line-out to put the game beyond doubt with 20 minutes still remaining.

Waikato players celebrate winning the Ranfurly Shield © Getty Images

Hawke's Bay 30-36 Waikato

Waikato have ended their forgettable ITM Cup season by winning the Ranfurly Shield from Championship pacesetters Hawke's Bay.

The Magpies had mounted 11 successful defences of the Log o' Wood, but Mooloos half-back and captain Brad Weber scored a second-half hat-trick to inspire the victory. Waikato have held the shield nine times previously, but not since losing it to Otago in 2013. More importantly, the victory ensures they remain in the Premiership while relegating Manawatu to the second-tier Championship.

Waikato led 17-15 at half-time, with tries by centre Anton Lienert-Brown and prop Josh Hohneck against Hawke's Bay scores by hooker Ash Dixon and flanker Brendon O'Connor, but Weber blew the game open as the visitors powered to a 36-18 advantage.

Hawke's Bay scored tries through full-back Marshall Lewis and O'Connor in the final five minutes, reducing the margin to six points, but a sweeping raid for victory after the siren came up short.

Taranaki 17-35 Tasman

Tasman have turned the form book on its head and gained a measure of revenge for last year's ITM Cup Premiership final result with a 35-17 win over Taranaki.

The South Island side scored all their four tries in the last 26 minutes in New Plymouth after trailing 7-3 at half-time, booking a semi-final against Auckland next week in the process. Defending champions Taranaki fell away badly after the break and are guaranteed to finish fourth, leaving them to contemplate a semi-final away to top qualifiers Canterbury next week.

Thursday's match was no repeat of the thrilling 2014 final, also in New Plymouth, which Taranaki won 36-32. The hosts were flimsy at scrum time and were opened up too easily after the break by Tasman, who ended a run of three successive losses after opening the season with six wins.

Taranaki's form had been the opposite. They had followed three early losses with six straight wins. Another looked on the cards when winger Jackson Ormond dashed 40m to score the game's opening try in the seventh minute.

That was the only try of the first spell, although Tasman were unlucky not to cross on several occasions, often let down by ill-discipline. Elusive wing Viliami Lolohea was a constant menace, as was prop Kane Hames, whose scrummaging made life miserable for Taranaki counterpart Angus Ta'avao.

The pressure eventually told as hooker Quentin MacDonald, flanker Vern Fredricks, No.8 Liam Squire and centre Kieron Fonotia all crossed for Tasman tries. Tasman are three points in front of Auckland, whose final game is away to Counties Manukau on Saturday.

A win would result in Auckland hosting Tasman in their semi-final. Any other result and the Aucklanders will qualify third, forcing them to travel south.

Northland 36-54 Otago

Otago have maintained their push for promotion to the ITM Cup Premiership with a remarkable victory over Championship rivals Northland in Whangarei.

Tony Ensor, a member of the New Zealand Sevens squad, played the starring role in the victory with a brace of tries and a hand in several others, while Michael Collins and James Lentjes each also scored two tries for the visitors.

Otago led 27-12 at half-time, with the margin reduced only in time added on when Taniwha winger Dave Thomas beat a number of tries to post a fine try. But home hopes of a comeback in the second stanza were dashed almost immediately with the Razorbacks posting three unanswered tries in the third quarter of the game to lead 42-12.

Northland flanker Kara Pryor pulled off an intercept on his own 22 and reached the goal-line at the other end of the field, and they posted another long-range try, through replacement scrum-half Kurt Davies, to secure a bonus point - their first competition point of the season.

Collins bagged his second for Otago before Northland captain Matt Moulds and winger Jordan Hyland completed the scoring.

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