At the mid-point of the competition Canterbury and Taranaki look certain to make the Premiership semi finals. Any two of Auckland, Waikato, Counties-Manukau and perhaps even Tasman could join them. Hawkes Bay, promoted last year, seem certain to be relegated.
Otago are runaway leaders in the Championship with only Southland and Northland out of the running for a semi final berth.
It was Counties-Manukau and Taranaki’s double-up Round, and it played out like this:
Taranaki 30-29 Counties-Manukau
Counties fought back from a 7-20 half time deficit and outscored Taranaki four tries to three, but a missed post-siren penalty from in front meant they lost by a point for the second time in less than a week. Big Will Skelton’s bigger little brother Cam made a late appearance for Counties. Taranaki may have been holding back a little with Sunday’s Ranfurly Shield challenge in mind.
Hawkes Bay 43-29 Southland
Hawkes Bay got their first win of the season but remain anchored to the bottom of the Premiership ladder. Ihaia West, playing his 50th for the Magpies, made up for being binned late in the first half to set up three tries in the final quarter to secure the bonus point win. The result leaves Southland last in the Championship but with a game in hand over fellow cellar-dwellers Northland.
Tasman 33-23 Northland
Tasman continued the trend of teams jumping out to handy leads then having to hang on as the opposition comes roaring back into the contest. After an error-filled opening 20, Tasman posted 20 points unanswered. The Taniwha responded with a scoring spree of their own to trail just 23-27 with 10 minutes remaining before Marty Banks sealed Tasman’s win with two late penalties.
Wellington 24-10 Bay of Plenty
Prop Reggie Goodes scored two of Wellington’s four tries in awful conditions at Westpac Stadium. Wellington took a 17-3 lead into the break and as conditions worsened there was just a try each scored in the second 40. Bay of Plenty attacked at every opportunity but the Lions defence was superb, none better than skipper Brad Shields, and the Bay were guilty of making too many basic errors at crucial times.
Otago 24-13 North Harbour
Otago were made to dig deep in recording their sixth straight win of the season. Early penalties and a rather fortuitous try gave them a 14-3 lead that Harbour trimmed to 14-13 at the break. Harbour threw everything at them in the second half, but the Otago defence held firm and repulsed every attack to maintain their perfect record.
Manawatu 19-13 Canterbury
Manawatu, relegated from the Premiership last year, pulled off the upset of the season in beating the defending champions in wet and slippery conditions. The victory was sealed with a controversial 77th minute try that the TMO took an age to rule on, and was fully deserved. Manawatu played perfect wet weather rugby and tackled like demons while Canterbury failed to play to the conditions.
Counties Manukau 30-26 Auckland
A badly out-of-sorts Auckland appeared to have snatched an unlikely victory with a try in the 74th minute, but live wire Counties halfback Augustine Pulu had other ideas. His 77th minute strike put his side back in front and also secured the bonus point. It was just reward for Counties after back-to-back one-point losses, and an Auckland win would have been most undeserved.
Waikato 20-20 Taranaki (Ranfurly Shield, Ryan Wheeler Trophy)
Challengers Taranaki dominated most of the first half hour but weren’t able to translate that into more than a penalty and a well-taken try to centre Jonathan Fa’auli in the 27th minute. Waikato struck back through winger Sevu Reece after the hooter, Taranaki leading 8-5 at half time.
Waikato grabbed the lead with an extraordinary second try to Reece soon after the resumption, but Taranaki replied almost immediately with a rather dubious one to No. 8 Toa Halafili. He soon scored again from a pushover scrum for Taranaki to lead 20-12 going into the final quarter. Debutant Waikato fullback Tyler Campbell was adjudged to have snuck over in the 65th to set up a grandstand finish with the challengers ahead by three.
Taranaki appeared to have sealed victory with a long-range, turnover ball try but the AR had spotted centre Seta Tamanivalu’s shoulder charge 70 metres upfield. That seemed to deflate Taranaki and inspire Waikato, as did 5/8 Sam Christie’s equalising penalty from 10 metres out shortly after. The final 10 minutes saw both teams attempt to break the deadlock but in every case defence trumped attack. The result means that neither the Shield nor the Trophy changed hands.
Week 6 fixtures:
Wed 21 Southland v Bay of Plenty, Invercargill
Thu 22 Northland v Wellington, Whangarei
Fri 23 Counties Manukau v Waikato, Pukekohe
Sat 24 Canterbury v Otago, Christchurch
Sat 24 Taranaki v Manawatu, New Plymouth
Sat 24 Hawkes Bay v Tasman, Napier
Sun 25 North Harbour v Southland, Albany
Sun 25 Bay of Plenty v Auckland, Rotorua