Counties retain Log o' Wood
Counties Manukau secured the Ranfurly Shield for the next six months with a 25-7 win over Southland in an NPC match.
Counties Manukau secured the Ranfurly Shield for the next six months with a 25-7 win over Southland in an NPC crossover match at Pukekohe.
Missing two key players in wing Sherwin Stowers, away on Sevens duty, and scrumhalf Augustine Pulu, out following surgery on a stress fracture, Counties had little difficulty in seeing off fourth-placed Championship (Second Division) team Southland.
The Shield holders were especially clinical in the first half, keeping errors to a minimum in a tricky, swirling wind and drizzly conditions to lead 22-0 at the break.
They jumped out to an early 12-0 lead with tries to lock Ronald Raaymakers and captain Fritz Lee in the opening 11 minutes.
Scrumhalf Kane Hancy's towering up and under set up the first when Southland wing Tim Cornforth spilled the take under pressure, then a rampaging run from flank Maama Vaipulu gave Counties the front-foot ball for Lee to slide over.
Baden Kerr's ever-reliable boot added a penalty, then fullback Ahsee Tuala crossed for Counties' third try four minutes from half-time.
Pressure at the breakdown forced the turnover in broken play as Southland tried to run the ball, centre Rey Lee-Lo showed good pace down the left wing before offloading to Tuala on the inside for the try.
Kept scoreless in the first 40 minutes, Southland relished the wind at their backs in the second spell but took 20 minutes to take full advantage.
Fullback Robbie Robinson was bundled over in the middle of a driving maul and Scott Eade added the extras but Southland did little more to capitalise on good field position and plenty of possession.
The visitors lacked accuracy as poor handling, forward passes and lineout errors accumulated steadily, leaving Kerr's 72nd minute penalty the only other scoring opportunity of the spell.
* In other weekend action Canterbury paid a dear price while booking a home Premiership semifinal.
They suffered five relatively serious injuries, as they hammered North Harbour 38-nil at Albany, with key players having dropped like flies.
The most serious is a dislocated shoulder for scrumhalf Andy Ellis while flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal has injured his calf and Ryan Crotty suffered a head knock.
Hooker Corey Flynn was ruled out just before kickoff with a neck injury while his replacement Ben Funnell then picked up knee ligament damage in the match.
* Waikato ended an underwhelming NPC season with a 22-14 victory over Taranaki in Hamilton.
The Mooloos led 15-nil at halftime, and were held scoreless for the bulk of the second half after a Sam Christie try shortly after the break.
The victory doesn't change the premiership standings, with Waikato ending the season in fifth, and Taranaki sixth.
* Northland has won the battle of the NPC cellar-dwellers, with a 20-19 victory over Bay of Plenty in Whangarei.
Scores and scorers:
Counties Manukau 25-7 Southland
Tries: Raaymakers, Lee, Tuala
Cons: Kerr 2
Pens: Kerr 2
North Harbour 0-38 Canterbury
Tries: Osborne, Bleyendaal, L Whitelock, Thompson, Taylor, Heinz
Con: Bleyendaal 2, Taylor 2
Waikato 22-14 Taranaki
Tries: Willison, Penalty try, Christie
Cons: Renata 2
Tries: Tamanivalu, Taylor
Cons: Taylor 2
Northland 20-19 Bay of Plenty
Tries: Ranger, Malupo 2
Bay of Plenty:
Tries: Axtens , Evemy, Toma
Cons: Ripia, Lynn
Sources: Newstalk ZB & NZ Newswire