- Premier Finalists: Canterbury, Taranaki, Tasman, Counties
- Championship Finalists: Otago, Wellington, North harbour, Bay of Plenty
- Biggest losers: Auckland, Waikato and Hawkes Bay. The former two are powerhouse unions that lost crucial games to miss out on the playoffs. Hawkes Bay were promoted from the Championship last season only to drop straight back down again after one season.
- Biggest winners: North Harbour, Counties and Bay of Plenty have all surged into the playoffs after solid seasons winning crucial games and playing attacking rugby.
- Breakdown Laws: World Rugby has now confirmed that the Mitre 10 Cup trial breakdown laws will be dumped. There has been widespread dissatisfaction with them in New Zealand.
Counties Manukau v Canterbury
Counties Manukau has a strong history and the mid-1990s team was one of the best ever including Jonah Lomu, Joeli Videri, Errol Brain, Junior Paramore, Glen Marsh and more. After a few decades in the wilderness we enter Tana Umanga in 2010. As first as a player/coach then the head coach, Umanga guided the Steelers to win the Championship Division anmd gain promotion to the Premiership four years ago. In 2013, Counties lifted the Ranfurly Shield for the first time since the Union’s inception in 1955 in a 27-24 victory over Hawkes Bay in 2013. Enter this season and round nine of this year’s competition Counties had a chance to make the play-offs for the major prize for the first time in decades. Saturday’s game started tight and despite an early Steelers try the Canterbury team, which was resting a few players before next week’s finals, was able to hold them to a slender 7-6 margin. After the break however Counties unleashed their ball running game for which Canterbury had no answer. Led by Chiefs Augustine Pulu (9) and Sam Vaka (13), bullocking prop Pauliasi Manu and hard-running Crusaders flanker Jordan Taufua the Steelers kept the ball alive, broke tackles and used the width of the park to inflict a six tries to three thrashing which the scoreline 33-21 does not even do justice. In a cruel twist of fate the two teams will meet again in eight days in the Premiership Semifinals.
Game 1 v Tasman
Harbours first game of the weekend was on Wednesday night under lights at Albany. At home to South Island powerhouse Tasman who are sitting third in the Premiership Division. Tasman scored early through a busting run from Chiefs winger James Lowe. Harbour hit straight back however when full back McGahan caught an inside pass from Blues winger Tevita Li who had attracted four Tasman defenders. With scores locked up 13-all at the break the breakdowns were messy throughout the second hald as both teams kept ball in hand and defence was fierce. Just 8min into the half impressive runs by Harbour’s McGahn and Tevita Li and good recycling put that ball into the hands of centre Matt Vaega who handed off his tackler to put Harbour up 20-13. The game stayed tight and well worked 5m lineout maul tries from both sides extended the score to 27-20. With 5min on the clock, 4 points and a home semifinal up for grabs, Tasman hammered the Harbour line and came up with a try to Shannon Frizell (8) who reached out from a ruck. At 27-27 and 82min on the clock neither team would kick the ball out and multiple knock on advantages were played in in a frenetic sequence by both teams needing competition points. Finally a Tasman penalty on the 50m line ended the frenzy. Marty banks hit the crossbar and the game ended at 27-27 and 2 competition points each. Tasman with 3rd spot in the Premiership and an away semi and Harbour needing a win against Northland to secure a first playoff spot since 2006.
Game 2 v Northland
North Harbour needed to win against Northland on Sunday afternoon at Toll Stadium. Harbour looked like they had won this game against bottom placed Northland before the opening whistle. Four first half tries and a commanding lead at the break of 32-7 was never going to be caught by the Taniwha who fought bravely to reach a 44-21 scoreline. The North Harbour backline was again impressive with Tevita Li and Matt Duffie in hot form on both wings grabbing 3 tried between them. Harbour have now booked themselves a semifinal date with the Wellington Lions next Saturday.
Waikato v Wellington – Leave it to Beaver
If you are not from New Zealand, or are and have been under a rock since the 2011 Rugby World Cup you will remember the story how the All Blacks suffered injuries to two of their three first fives and coach Graham Henry famously called Stephen Donald, who was whitebaiting at the time, whether he had some boots and would like to sit on the bench in the World Cup Final. As it happened Aaron Cruden went down injured in the match and Donald, or “Beaver” as he is known to friends came on and casually kicked the match winning penalty in a shirt that came up to his belly button. I encourage you to watch the replay. Back to this week’s game. Wellington came into this match having suffered two heavy 50-point defeats the previous weekend from Manawatu and Taranaki while Waikato having lost the shield to Canterbury two weeks prior and their chance at the playoffs took a lot of wind out of their sails. Damien McKenzie showed great touches to open up the game, with a great pass to put over big forward Manihera (6) and a cross kick for Reece to score in the corner. The Wellington forwards pick-and-goed and ran the ball up well and were rewarded by four tries from close range to Vaea Fifita (6), Matenga (8), Goodes (1) and Aumua (18) to stay ahead of the Waikato team reaching a 24-14 lead with 10min remaining. But Waikato were not finished at following Reeces cross-field try enter the Beaver, with Stephen Donald catching a pass from who else but Damien McKenzie to go through to score. 28-24 Waikato with 3min remaining and with their season gone the Mooloo men looked like they had won the championship!
Taranaki v Auckland
Both teams had everything to play for at yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth – a win for Taranaki could secure a home semifinal and for Auckland nothing less than a 4-try bonus point win would get them through. Auckland brought pace and intent, scoring twice inside ten minutes to speedsters Melani Nanai (15) and reiko Ioane (13). Nanai who scored the first, had a hand in the second when Michael Fatialofa (5) burst though the Taranaki line from deep inside the Auckland half, creating momentum for Nanai and Ioane go searching down the left touchline where Ioane (13) scored. Taranaki woke up and got to work in the set piece and forward exchanges – their bread and butter. Some scrappy kicking saw Marty McKenzie on the end of a Declan O’Donnell run. Just before the half-time break Taranaki on attack were happy to drive of lineout ball and work the ball up through the forwards on the Auckland line before suddenly firing the ball wide where All Black Centre Tamanivalu used his power and fend to burst over the top of Reiko Ioane for a try. Ioane would have his revenge momenta later as he scored to give Auckland a 19-13 half time advantage. Both teams were almost out on their feet after only 40min. Taranaki drew first blood after the break with yet another rolling maul which this time made it over the Auckland line. A turning point in the game came when Australian lock Ben Matwijow (4) charged down and scored in the 67th minute to put Taranaki up 28-25. A brain explosion from Taranaki wing O’Donnell put Taranaki down to 14 men however with a minute to go Halafihi (8) ran off the back of the powerful Taranaki scrum to score. Taranaki 35-32 Auckland. Taranaki a home semifinal and Auckland knocked out.
BOP v Hawkes Bay
On Saturday, Hawkes Bay had nothing to play for in Napier having already been consigned to relegation to the Championship division while Bay of Plenty needed a win to have a chance at a semifinal. Bay of Plenty half Te Aihe Toma sparked the game to life after 20min scoring with a brilliant individual try from the base of the scrum on the 22m line. Not to be outdone, his opposite, Chiefs halfback brad Weber responded in similar style for Hawkes Bay from a lineout to level the scores. The BOP Steamers kept attacking Hawkes Bay and their forward power was finally rewarded with a try on half time when the ball was spun wide to the man on the touchline. Early in the second spell the Steamers forwards expertly rolled a lineout maul over the Hawkes Bay line to go 19-10 ahead of their Premiership opponents. A crucial call in the match came in the 71st minute when multiple 5m scrums on the Hawkes Bay line resulted in a penalty try. Up 26-10 with just 5min to go the Steamers just had to hang on but Hawkes Bay would not let them. An all-out assault and a pulsating final 5min saw centre Jonah Lowe (13) score two tries to close the gap to 24-26 however Bay of Plenty defended valiantly and secured their semifinal next Friday against Otago.
Manawatu v Otago
Otago has sat on the top of while Manawatu have looked like giant killers – beatin both Canterbury and Wellington in recent weeks. The maths were clear – Otago the Championship leader all season needed a win for a chance at a home final while Manawatu had to win to gain a semifinal spot. The game, played in Palmerston North, was a low scoring affair with five tries scored overall. The men from the South Island started better with two tries in the first 11min to both wingers. On a slippery night prolific Manawatu try scorer Loumape (13) picked up an Otere Black grubber to score bringing the score to 13-7 before Otago hacked through and pounced on a loose ball to lead at half time 21-7. In the second half All Black Aaron Cruden came on at first five and sparked the Turbos attack and when Manawatu went over the line but were disallowed a try with 4min to go the scores would remain 21-14.
Tasman v Southland
Tasman scored eight tries on Sunday in a 56-0 thrashing of Southland to cement their place in the Premiership semifinals. Crusaders Centre Kieron Fonotia and Chiefs winger James Lowe again enjoyed rich form while Makos number 8 Pete Samu showed again why he is due a Super Rugby contract.
14:05 NZDT (1) Canterbury v (4) Counties Manukau, Christchurch Round robin result: Counties Manukau won 33-21 in Pukekohe 16:35 NZDT (2) Taranaki v (3) Tasman, New Plymouth Round robin result: Tasman won 25-20 in Nelson
14:05 NZDT (1) Canterbury v (4) Counties Manukau, Christchurch
Round robin result: Counties Manukau won 33-21 in Pukekohe
16:35 NZDT (2) Taranaki v (3) Tasman, New Plymouth
Round robin result: Tasman won 25-20 in Nelson
21 Oct 19:35 NZDT (1) Otago v (4) Bay of Plenty, Dunedin Round robin result: Otago won 33-32 in Tauranga 22 Oct 14:35 NZDT (2) Wellington v (3) North Harbour, Wellington Round robin result: Wellington won 21-17 in Wellington
21 Oct 19:35 NZDT (1) Otago v (4) Bay of Plenty, Dunedin
Round robin result: Otago won 33-32 in Tauranga
22 Oct 14:35 NZDT (2) Wellington v (3) North Harbour, Wellington
Round robin result: Wellington won 21-17 in Wellington
(1) Wanganui v (4) Wairarapa Bush, Whanganui Did not meet in the round robin (2) South Canterbury v (3) Buller, Timaru Round robin result: South Canterbury won 28-26 in Timaru
(1) Wanganui v (4) Wairarapa Bush, Whanganui
Did not meet in the round robin
(2) South Canterbury v (3) Buller, Timaru
Round robin result: South Canterbury won 28-26 in Timaru
(5) Mid Canterbury v (8) North Otago, Ashburton Round robin result: Mid Canterbury won 40-32 in Ashburton (6) King Country v (7) Poverty Bay Round robin result: King Country won 30-24 in Taupo
(5) Mid Canterbury v (8) North Otago, Ashburton
Round robin result: Mid Canterbury won 40-32 in Ashburton
(6) King Country v (7) Poverty Bay
Round robin result: King Country won 30-24 in Taupo