ITM Cup semi-finals
Tasman hammer Canterbury to secure finals spot
October 18, 2014
Tasman were too good for Canterbury © Getty Images

Canterbury's six-year reign as NPC champions is over following a 26-6 loss to an inspired Tasman in Nelson. Tasman advance to the Premiership final against Taranaki courtesy of an emphatic performance, scoring both of their tries in the first half to lead 17-6.

Top qualifiers Taranaki beat Auckland 49-30 in extra time in the earlier semi-final on Saturday to set up a clash of two provinces who have never won the ITM Cup crown in New Plymouth next week.

Tasman notched success with more ease than their final opponents, strangling the life out of the visitors in the second spell. Canterbury, who have been so dominant in setting their record sequence of titles, could only manage two penalties to first five-eighth Tom Taylor.

His opposite Marty Banks kicked 16 points, including three out of six penalty shots attempted in a slow-moving second spell. It extended Banks's NPC season-leading points tally to 161.

Tasman defended with vigour, making Canterbury look pedestrian with ball in hand while always looking dangerous themselves on counter-attack in a similar manner to when the teams met in Christchurch two weeks ago, resulting in a 38-10 Tasman win.

They opened the scoring with a try to wing James Lowe who pounced on an awkward bounce from a box kick launched by halfback Jimmy Cowan. Former All Black Cowan scored a crucial try on the stroke of halftime after a long-range break from Robbie Malneek.

Eleven-time champions Canterbury were hampered by injury throughout the second half of their campaign. They struggled to get first five-eighth Dan Carter on the field while captain and halfback Willi Heinz was scratched after injuring himself in the match warmups on Saturday.

Taranaki celebrate defeating Auckland in extra time © Getty Images

After a 30-all deadlock at fulltime between Taranaki and Auckland, Taranaki pulled out a fantastic extra time performance to score three-tries-to-none to secure their first ever Premiership home grand final. In a fantastic semi-final performance, both sides fought hard with the lead constantly see-sawing between the two, but it was Taranaki who proved too good at home to seal a strong semi-final victory.

Top qualifiers Taranaki had too much gas in the tank to win a rollicking nine-try affair and they will host the final next week against either Tasman or Canterbury. While Auckland are the most successful province in 38 years of ITM Cup rugby, Taranaki only have six second division titles in their trophy cabinet.

Led again by the power running of centre Seta Tamanivalu, they notched just their 29th win in 121 games against Auckland, repeating the outcome of their 35-22 win when the teams met in New Plymouth two weeks ago.

The home side shot 14-0 clear inside seven minutes after tries to hooker Rhys Marshall and flanker Mitchell Crosswell but Auckland fought back to trail just 24-23 at half-time. Visiting first five-eighth Gareth Anscombe scored 18 of his 20 points before the break, including a fine solo try.

Wing George Moala powered over the first of his two tries to put Auckland ahead but fullback James Marshall put Taranaki back in front in one of the game's seven lead changes. They didn't cross again in the second spell while a 55m Moala intercept try appeared to give Auckland momentum.

Wing Cody Rei levelled the scores with a penalty seven minutes from the end but first five-eighth Marty McKenzie, who assumed the goalkicking duties, missed a late penalty and dropped goal attempt which would have handed Taranaki a late win.

The result was virtually sealed 4-minutes into extra team when the brilliant Tamanivalu set up tries to wing Waisake Naholo and No.8 Blade Thomson. Reserve wing Jackson Ormond raced 60m soon afterwards to cement the result.

Auckland, who haven't won the title since 2007, farewell Anscombe and hooker Tom McCartney, who are both departing for contracts in Europe.

Manawatu's Otere Black makes a break against Southland © Getty Images

Manawatu withstood a late Southland surge to win the NPC championship division semi-final 23-18 in Palmerston North and set up a final against Hawke's Bay. The home side led 23-6 with half an hour to play before tries to Southland No.8 Elliot Dixon and wing Keanu Kahukura lifted Southland within sight of an upset.

However, top qualifiers Manawatu weren't to be denied a ninth win out of 11 matches this year. It was their fifth win on the trot and a continuation next week at home to their provincial neighbours will earn them promotion to the NPC Premiership division in place of the relegated Wellington.

They had thumped Southland 41-20 earlier in the season but Saturday's game was a tenser affair, with slippery ground conditions turning into a kicking duel for long periods. Manawatu fly-half Otere Black landed five from six shots, maintaining his excellent strike rate in his debut season and carrying him past 100 points for the campaign.

Black's 16-point haul included the conversion of tries to fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder in the 15th minute and to captain Callum Gibbons on the 48th, both set up by sharp blindside work from scrum-half Kayne Hammington. Flanker Gibbons' 45m effort continued his outstanding form this season.

The home side made fewer errors and held a set piece edge over their fourth-ranked opponents, with Gibbons, Hammington, hooker Rob Foreman and midfield back Jason Emery among their standout performers.

Hawkes Bay's Robbie Fruean celebrates his try, Hawke's Bay v Northland, ITM Championship semi-final, McLean Park, Napier, October 17, 2014
Hawke's Bay's Robbie Fruean celebrates his five-pointer © Getty Images

A Hawke's Bay side directed by playmaker Ihaia West are within one win of capping a brilliant NPC season with promotion to the Premiership division.

West kicked 16 points and provided the brightest attacking moments as his side beat Northland 26-21 in the Championship division semi-final at Napier on Friday. The Blues first five-eighth slotted all his six shots at goal, including a booming 56m effort 15 minutes from time to give his team crucial breathing space. He also set up their second try, to centre Robbie Fruean, helping Hawke's Bay retain their unbeaten record at McLean Park this season. They defended the Ranfurly Shield there four times this year, including last week against Southland when West's late dropped goal earned them a draw.

Hawke's Bay have repeated their effort of reaching the Championship final last year, when they lost to Tasman by one point. They will hope to go one better next week against either top qualifiers Manawatu or Southland, who meet in the second semi-final on Saturday.

Northland dominated much of the first half but trailed 13-8, lacking the home side's power at scrum time and clinical ability to turn chances into points. They scored three tries to two, including a late effort from prop Namatahi Waa to add some spice to the closing minutes. However, first five-eighth Dan Hawkins landed just two from five shots.

Northland scored the first try through wing Jone Macilai to put them 8-6 ahead after 27 minutes but fullback Richard Buckman restored Hawke's Bay's lead following a tighthead scrum win. The abrasive Buckman limped off with a knee injury before halftime, placing him in doubt for the final. A sweet West inside ball to Fruean soon after the break pushed the home side clear before Northland enjoyed their best period. That included a fine try to captain and No.8 Dan Pryor, who capitalised on a chance to showcase his speed out wide.


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