NPC Team of the week: Round nine
OPINION: The final round of the regular season threw up some trying weather for teams to navigate one of the most stressful weeks of the competition.
First up was the ugliest game of the season so far.
Auckland’s second string forward pack was ill-disciplined and messy and Southland was Southland.
In the first half, Auckland gave away 9 penalties, made 10 turnovers and lost numerous lineouts and scrums.
Southland risked little and got little reward.
After the break, Auckland brought on a host of early replacements and stormed out to an 8-56 win.
Torrential rain welcomed Hawkes’ Bay to Nelson on Thursday night.
The combination of strong defence and tricky conditions equalled some crutial errors in the danger zone and it took half an hour before a Hunt penalty broke the deadlock.
Hawkes’ Bay certainly had chances but Tasman’s defence, set pieces and finishing were top shelf, snatching a bonus-point win, 29-0.
Dane Coles came off the bench for Wellington in his return to professional rugby on Friday.
Taranaki hosted Wellington in cyclone-eske winds that made the Lions feel at home.
The Bulls started well with the powerful wind at their backs but Wellington pinned them back after the break and with massive dominance in territory and ferocious defence took hold of the match.
Wellington secured a bonus point, a semi-final spot and sent Taranaki to the Championship next year with a 10-31 victory.
With nothing to lose or gain, Bay of Plenty’s forwards did what they do best, smashed Northland into submission.
Although Northland put on some superb attacking, especially a fantastic try by Jordan Hyland on the buzzer, the Bay were too far ahead by then and took the match, 38-35.
Putting aside some very dodgy refereeing, the Waikato/Otago Ranfurly Shield challenge was a brilliant example of tactical rugby and set up a possible rematch in the final, should they get that far.
Both teams ran and kicked with aplomb, taking the match down to the wire, where Otago held on and took the Log O’ Wood home for the summer, 19-23.
Counties and Canterbury reintroduced some big-name props with Joe Moody (Canterbury) and Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau) entering off the bench and making a big impact.
There was a big finish as the teams went well into overtime to try to push their cases. Canterbury aiming for a #2 spot with a bonus point try and Counties shooting for an historic win.
The second half only held a single try, a penalty try from a scrum to Canterbury.
Nepo Laulala entered the fray shortly afterwards and switched the scrum dominance around almost single-handedly.
But it was not enough and Canterbury took the win, sans bonus point, 14-19.
Auckland made a massive statement ahead of the playoffs with a huge victory over Battle of the Bridge rivals, North Harbour.
A consistent stream of tries led to a 45-29 win for the blue and white hoops.
The final match of the regular season saw Southland slump to a second straight season without victory, 38-26 to Manawatu.
Next Week: It’s playoffs time! Premiership leaders Auckland take on Wellington (Saturday) while Tasman host Canterbury (Friday). Auckland beat all three other semi-finalists during the regular season, while Tasman beat the other two and Canterbury beat Wellington, however, Canterbury go into the weekend the favourites due to their unprecedented NPC success.
In the Championship, Waikato beat Hawke’s Bay who beat Otago who beat Waikato. And all three beat Northland. In the semi-finals, Waikato play Northland and Otago host Hawke’s Bay, with both games on Saturday.
Team of the Week – Round Nine:
15 – Shaun Stevenson (North Harbour):
Stevenson had a tough night against Auckland, but his skills at getting the ball free and swooping through gaps made him the best player in a losing effort.
If it wasn’t for so many errors George Bridge (Canterbury) would have featured here.
Bubbling Under: Lewis Ormond (Southland)
14 – Mark Talea (North Harbour):
The other shinning light for Harbour in their rout by Auckland. Found and made space where others couldn’t.
Special mention to Jordan Hyland (Northland) and Tomas Aoake (Tasman).
Bubbling Under: Connor Garden-Bachop (Canterbury)
13 – Tamati Tua (Northland):
Was strong on defence and central to Northland keeping in touch, with a faultless display on attack.
Bubbling Under: Braydon Ennor (Canterbury)
12 – Ngani Laumape (Manawatu):
Laumape showed what can be done when he sticks to the basics. Bashed through Southland’s midfield scoring twice and popped a great offload for Kirikiri to score.
Special mention to Dwayne Sweeney (Waikato).
Bubbling Under: Billy Proctor (Wellington)
11 – Malo Tuitama (Wellington):
A couple of mistakes can be forgiven when he tore through Taranaki’s defence with ease and shut down the dangerous Regan Ware.
Bubbling Under: Salesi Rayasi (Auckland)
10 – Mitch Hunt (Tasman):
Hunt should feel very aggrieved not to get a call to the All Blacks as he has been head and shoulders above all the other fly-halves this season.
Bubbling Under: Josh Ioane (Otago)
9 – Warwick Lahmert (Taranaki):
Former New Zealand and England Sevens player, Lahmert burst onto the scene in Taranaki with a brilliant display of running rugby balanced with speedy distribution. Pity his team couldn’t keep up with him.
Bubbling Under: Finlay Christie (Tasman)
8 – Akira Ioane (Auckland):
Another that must have found it tough to miss out on All Blacks honours after the season he is having. Has added some great breakdown work to his big runs and no-nonsense defence.
Special mention to Jesse Parete (Taranaki).
Bubbling Under: Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Wellington)
7 – Antonio Kirikiri (Manawatu):
Kirikiri’s best performance this season, picking up a brace of tries to go with a bunch of tackles and a turnover at the breakdown.
Special mention to Mitch Karpik (Bay of Plenty) and Tom Christie (Canterbury).
Bubbling Under: Dalton Papali’i (Auckland)
6 – Devan Flanders (Hawkes’ Bay):
Superb running from the 2017 Hastings Boys’ High School national title winner from just last year. One to watch in the near future.
Special mention to Sikeli Nabou (Counties Manukau) for his 4 breakdown steals, Jackson Hemopo (Manawatu), Ethan Blackadder (Tasman) and James Tucker (Waikato).
Bubbling Under: Vaea Fifita (Wellington)
5 – Maanaki Selby-Rickit (Southland):
Was a thorn in both Auckland’s and Manawatu’s line-outs, while storming up the field for some excellent carries.
Special mention to Paripari Parkinson (Tasman) and Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington).
Bubbling Under: Baden Wardlaw (Bay of Plenty)
4 – Kane Laupepe (Bay of Plenty):
12 carries with 3 defenders beaten and 48 metres. Also, 12 tackles, none missed. Giant afternoon for a giant man.
Bubbling Under: Luke Romano (Canterbury)
3 – Tyrel Lomax (Tasman):
A giant scrummaging effort from the new All Black call-up. Some strong running and defence rounded out a solid game.
Special mention to Marcel Renata (Auckland), Morgan Mitchell (Southland), Jeff Thwaites (Bay of Plenty) and super-sub Nepo Laulala (Counties Manukau).
Bubbling Under: Joe Apikotoa (Hawkes’ Bay)
2 – Asafo Aumua (Wellington):
Has built into the season and is putting in the work around the park to go along with his barn-storming runs.
Bubbling Under: Mike Sosene Feagai (Auckland)
1 – Wyatt Crockett (Tasman):
There are so many new faces in the All Blacks, but Crockett will still be missed as the best loosehead scrummager in the country.
Bubbling Under: James Lay (Bay of Plenty)
Team of the Week – Round Eight: 15 Will Jordan (Tasman), 14 Tyler Campbell (Waikato), 13 Braydon Ennor (Canterbury), 12 Quinn Tupaea (Waikato), 11 Sevu Reece (Waikato), 10 Mitch Hunt (Tasman), 9 Mitchell Drummond (Canterbury), 8 Dylan Nel (Otago), 7 Dillon Hunt (North Harbour):, 6 James Tucker (Waikato), 5 Kane Laupepe (Bay of Plenty), 4 Luke Romano (Canterbury), 3 Marcel Renata (Auckland), 2 Asafo Aumua (Wellington), 1 Wyatt Crockett (Tasman).
Team of the Week – Round Seven: 15 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (Hawkes’ Bay), 14 Regan Ware (Taranaki), 13 Braydon Ennor (Canterbury), 12 Dwayne Sweeney (Waikato), 11 Tevita Li (North Harbour), 10 Mitch Hunt (Tasman), 9 Jamie Booth (Manawatu), 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u (Hawkes’ Bay), 7 Dillon Hunt (North Harbour):, 6 Billy Harmon (Canterbury), 5 James Tucker (Waikato), 4 Tom Parsons (Hawkes’ Bay), 3 Josh Iosefa-Scott (Waikato), 2 Andrew Makalio (Tasman), 1 Wyatt Crockett (Tasman).
Team of the Week – Round Six: 15 George Bridge (Canterbury), 14 Matt Duffie (North Harbour), 13 Levi Aumua (Tasman), 12 Scott Gregory (Northland), 11 Ben Lam (Wellington), 10 Mitch Hunt (Tasman), 9 Finlay Christie (Tasman), 8 Thomas Waldrom (Wellington), 7 Mitchell Jacobson (Waikato), 6 Pita Sowakula (Taranaki), 5 James Tucker (Waikato), 4 James Blackwell (Wellington), 3 Marcel Renata (Auckland), 2 James Parsons (North Harbour), 1 Wyatt Crockett (Tasman).
Team of the Week – Round Five: 15 Wes Goosen (Wellington), 14 Mitchell Scott (Otago), 13 Matt Faddes (Otago), 12 Tinoai Faiane (Auckland), 11 Sevu Reece (Waikato), 10 Fletcher Smith (Waikato), 9 Jono Kitto (Northland), 8 Dylan Nel (Otago), 7 Dalton Papali’i (Auckland), 6 Vaea Fifita (Wellington), 5 Paripari Parkinson (Tasman), 4 Ben Fotheringham (Southland), 3 Josh Iosefa-Scott (Waikato), 2 James Parsons (North Harbour), 1 Wyatt Crockett (Tasman).
Team of the Week – Round Four: 15 Wes Goosen (Wellington), 14 Nigel Ah Wong (Counties Manukau), 13 Rob Thompson (Manawatu), 12 Dwayne Sweeney (Waikato), 11 Sevu Reece (Waikato), 10 Fletcher Smith (Waikato), 9 Brad Weber (Hawkes’ Bay), 8 Dylan Nel (Otago), 7 Mitchell Jacobson (Waikato), 6 Mitchell Crosswell (Taranaki), 5 Mitchell Dunshea (Canterbury), 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), 3 Kalolo Tuiloma (Counties Manukau), 2 Robbie Abel (Auckland), 1 Sam Prattley (Auckland).
Team of the Week – Round Three: 15 Wes Goosen (Wellington), 14 Ben Lam (Wellington), 13 Rob Thompson (Manawatu), 12 Teihorangi Walden (Taranaki), 11 Jona Nareki (Otago), 10 Mitch Hunt (Tasman), 9 Te Toirua Tahuriorangi (Taranaki), 8 Akira Ioane (Auckland), 7 Mitch Karpik (Bay of Plenty), 6 Dalton Papali’i (Auckland), 5 Jack Whetton (Auckland), 4 Luke Romano (Canterbury), 3 Angus Ta’avao (Taranaki), 2 Asafo Aumua (Wellington), 1 Reuben O’Neill (Taranaki).
Team of the Week – Round Two: 15 Will Jordan (Tasman), 14 Melani Nanai (Auckland), 13 Rob Thompson (Manawatu), 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wellington), 11 Manasa Mataele (Taranaki), 10 Matthew Lansdown (Waikato), 9 Brad Weber (Hawkes’ Bay), 8 Sam Henwood (Counties Manukau), 7 Mitch Karpik (Bay of Plenty), 6 Liam Mitchell (Manawatu), 5 Ben Nee Nee (North Harbour), 4 Luke Romano (Canterbury), 3 Angus Ta’avao (Taranaki), 2 Ash Dixon (Hawkes’ Bay), 1 Ross Wright (Northland).
Team of the Week – Round One: 15 Shaun Stephenson (North Harbour), 14 Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki), 13 Levi Aumua (Tasman), 12 Matthew Johnson (Southland), 11 Rene Ranger (Northland), 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop (Wellington), 9 Richard Judd (Bay of Plenty), 8 Akira Ioane (Auckland), 7 Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki), 6 Ethan Blackadder (Tasman), 5 Aaron Carroll (Bay of Plenty), 4 Quinton Strange (Tasman), 3 Marco Fepulea’i (Auckland), 2 Andrew Makalio (Tasman), 1 Wyatt Crockett (Tasman).
By Richard Neale