From Otago's midweek win over Hawke's Bay through to Sunday afternoon's Bay of Plenty win over Auckland, there was plenty to highlight the competitive nature of the competition.
Otago backed up with a win over Southland on Sunday to head their Conference, albeit with the benefit of their extra game. Otago has 14 points with Hawke's Bay on 13, Waikato on 12 and Bay of Plenty.
Taranaki in miserable conditions in New Plymouth, did Auckland a favour by beating Canterbury. Auckland had perfect conditions, by comparison, and while losing to BOP sit on 15 points from four games with Canterbury on 11, North Harbour on 10 and Northland, who beat Wellington, on nine.
Bunnings NPC – Round 3 results:
Otago 18 Hawke's Bay 13
Away from home and without the Ranfurly Shield on the line, Hawke's Bay found the going at little tougher. Otago's forwards were ready for the test and while Hawke's Bay opened the scoring with a rolling maul try to hooker Tyrone Thompson, and a fine conversion from fullback Harry Godfrey on debut, Otago kept working.
Josh Ioane was playing at fullback, but found himself up in his more familiar role, one off the ruck, to run at the Bay defence in their 22m area and open up a huge hole to go in to score beneath the posts. Godfrey, a NZ Secondary Schools and NZ Under-20s representative, landed a penalty goal to level the score at 10-10 just before the break. Otago first five-eighths Cameron Millar kicked a 50:22 to give Otago a rolling maul chance from a lineout and hooker Ricky Jackson did the business to score the try. Bay replacement prop Lolani Faleiva had a try on debut ruled out for a knock-on earlier in the movement and it took Godfrey to land a later penalty goal to ensure a loser's bonus point for Hawke's Bay.
Otago 18 (Josh Ioane, Ricky Jackson tries; Cameron Millar con 2 pen) Hawke's Bay 13 (Tyrone Thompson try; Harry Godfrey con, 2 pen). HT: 10-10
Counties Manukau 20 Waikato 34
Being bolstered by returning All Blacks wasn't enough for Counties Manukau to get a win at home over neighbours Waikato. The home team did score first through hooker Zuriel Togiatama who, for a pleasant change, was on the end of a backline movement rather than a maul to score a try. Waikato came back when unleashing bullocking lock Laghlan McWhannell from a lovely pass by their man of the match, hooker Rhys Marshall, to run 30m to score after set-up runs from Liam Coombes-Fabling and loosie Samipeni Finau.
Tied at 10-10 at the break, No8 Hoskins Sotutu, who was close to the ball all game, pounced when Waikato couldn't control an Etene Nanai-Seturo kick ahead. Sotutu kicked it on, regathered, and flung a superb backhand pass infield where halfback Cameron Roigard was on hand to take it and score. But, two lineout shambles undid Counties Manukau. The first, a Waikato throw, went long and replacement prop Ollie Norris was quickly onto the ball to score. Next it was Counties Manukau who blew a lineout. Marshall was round the back to gather and feed replacement halfback Xavier Roe away for the try. Then, as the home team threw the ball around wildly in their 22m, they were fortunate a Marshall turnover denied a try for wing Mosese Dawai. But moments later, the backs dropped the ball and Dawai, kicking it ahead, got his try, and Counties Manukau finished without a loser's bonus point.
Counties Manukau 20 (Zuriel Togiatama, Cam Roigard tries; Riley Hohepa 2 con, 2 pen) Waikato 34 (Laghlan McWhannell, Ollie Norris, Xavier Roe, Mosese Dawai tries; Damian McKenzie 4 con, 2 pen). HT: 10-10
Taranaki 16 Canterbury 10
One of rugby's oldest adages, the conditions were a leveller, was borne out when Taranaki came back from the dark places they have been in the first two rounds to score a rare win over the high-flying Canterbury side, at Pukekura Park. Played in what could be best described as 'wintry conditions', the visiting side scored two tries to one, the difference being the goal-kicking boot of fullback Stephen Perofeta. He also helped lift Taranaki out of their dull patch by producing some lovely running. Standing one off a ruck in his preferred position, he provided impetus for first five-eigthths Potroz to feed centre Daniel Rona, running a lovely angle, to crack the Canterbury defence on a 35-metre run for a first-half try. Minutes later Rona was almost in again after chasing his own kick ahead, only to lose his footing in a contest for the ball short of the line.
Canterbury had little option but to work hard into the wind in the second half and eventually, after good set-up work by the pack, halfback replacement Willi Heinz threw a long blindside pass to his wing George Bridge, who got over in the corner. Then, an inevitable lineout drive produced a chance and hooker George Bell made no mistake to get Canterbury to 10-16. However, there were no more gaps and Taranaki got their campaign on the rails in the most impressive fashion.
Taranaki 16 (Daniel Rona try; Stephen Perofeta con, 3 pen) Canterbury 10 (George Bridge, George Bell tries). HT: 10-0
Wellington 6 Northland 15
Northland's outstanding start to the season continued with a win over Wellington in rugged conditions at Jerry Collins Stadium. The home team didn't lack for chances in the first half, but they were denied anything more than two Jackson Garden-Bachop penalty goals. Northland's defensive spirit was the key difference, and towards the end of the first half that paid dividends.
From a long lineout maul and drive to the line, it was flanker R Rush who touched the ball down. And then moments later, the backs had their say when second five-eighths Josh Goodhue's quick hands found wing Heremaia Murray. His feed to fullback Josh Morby allowed him to put his speed to use in scoring the second try. Battle as Wellington might, it couldn't secure its opportunities and the score was unchanged in the second half, a credit to the defensive excellence of the Northlanders.
Wellington 6 (Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 pen) Northland 15 (Rob Rush, Josh Moorby tries; Rivez Reihana con, pen). HT: 6-15
North Harbour 35 Tasman 27
North Harbour first five-eighths Bryn Gatland turned on a punishing goal-kicking display in his side's win over Tasman. Punishing because Tasman paid for any indiscretions within their own half as Gatland knocked over seven penalty goals and two conversions for a 100 per cent record. That despite Tasman leading through two early tries. Wing Max Hicks knocked a kick to the corner from first five-eighths Campbell Parata that fell for fullback Sevu Reece to score a try that rewarded his following up. Then halfback Noah Hotham sold a superb dummy five metres out from the Harbour goal-line to score.
Harbour halfback Jamie Booth ran to the open side from a scrum in the Tasman 22m area and flung a pass half the width of the field for right-wing Kade Banks to score and then Gatland lobbed a kick to the left where left-wing Tevita Li had two goes but held the ball to cross. Tasman hooker Andrew Makalio scored from a lineout drive just before the half. Parata produced a right-foot kick to the corner for Reece to get the bounce again and with Parata's conversion, they led 27-26 heading into the final quarter. However, infringements came back to haunt Tasman and the irrepressible Gatland did the rest.
North Harbour 35 (Kade Banks, Tevita Li tries; Bryn Gatland 2 con, 7 pen) Tasman 27 (Sevu Reece 2, Nathan Hotham, Andrew Makalio tries; Campbell Parata 2 con, pen). HT: 23-17
Auckland 17 Bay of Plenty 21
First five-eighths Kaleb Trask led his side to a rare win at Eden Park over Auckland. Apart from two penalty goals to put the game beyond the seven-point margin with 10 minutes left, he also pressured Auckland defenders twice forcing them to goal-line dropouts when unable to clear their in-goal area. It had all looked to be going too well for Auckland when up 10-0 after eight minutes. That was after second five-eighths Roger Tuivasa-Sheck drew the defence, passed to flanker Vaiolini Ekuasi. He fed centre AJ Lam perfectly into space for an uncontested try after eight minutes.
But after first five-eighths Harry Plummer was sin-binned for tripping a player, Bay of Plenty charged back into the game. Auckland halfback Taufa Funaki had a kick charged down by his opposite Jamie Dobie who regathered the ball and put second five Inga Finau over. Then 15 minutes into the second half, a backline move put wing Nigel Ah Wong over before Trask did his goal-kicking damage. Wing Salesi Rayasi at least ensured a loser's bonus point for Auckland with a 70m sprint to score as the hooter sounded.
Auckland 17 (AJ Lam, Salesi Rayasi tries; Harry Plummer con, pen; Simon Hickey con) Bay of Plenty 21 (Imga Finau, Nigel Ah Wong tries; Kaleb Trask con, 3 pen). HT: 10-8
Southland 32 Otago 37
Otago's caution allowed Southland to keep in touch throughout the game, although the visitors were more assured in taking their chances, their first try coming from a lineout maul when Henry Bell scored. Typically, for what followed through the game, Southland's replacement wing Michael Manson sped down the sideline on a 50m burst, cut inside and blindside flanker Grayson Knapp was right at hand to score. Both first five-eighths, Josh Ioane for Otago and Marty Banks for Southland, had influential hands in mid-game tries. Ioane raced onto the ball down the blindside and the ball was moved to put wing Freedom Vaha'akolo down the sideline to score. Then, second five-eighths Thomas Umaga-Jensen took two tacklers and off-loaded to flanker James Lentjes. Banks stationed out wide put Matt Whaanga down the sideline and he charged over in two tackles.
Southland second five-eighths Scott Gregory held the ball up nicely for flanker Matt James to slip through at pace, beat the defence and score under the posts to narrow the margin to five points. However, a 20m bullocking run by midfielder Ray Nu'u resulted in lock Josh Dickson driving over. That made the game safe for Otago, but Southland had the last say, Banks out wide again putting flanker replacement Viliame Fine down the sideline for the bonus point.
Southland 32 (Grayson Knapp, Matt Whaanga, Matt James, Viliami Fine tries; Marty Banks 3 con, 2 pen) Otago 37 (Henry Bell, Freedom Vaha'akolo, James Lentjes, Josh Dickson tries; Josh Ioane 4 con, 3 pen). HT: 15-24
Manawatū 17 Hawke's Bay 43
Hawke's Bay's stamina undid the home team at Palmerston North. Behind 17-19 at the turn, Manawatū kept the Bay scoreless for 26 minutes, but as so often happens when the dam burst, it swamped them. First five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie benefited from a chargedown of a kick by halfback Folau Fakatava that Manawatū couldn't control, and ran 40m to score. Then quality play from the Bay pack built up momentum and finally it was hooker Tyrone Thompson who scored. Just to hit Manawatu while they were down, Chase Tiatia than pushed a 40m dropped goal over after a goal-line dropout.
Two tries in two minutes to hooker Siua Maile had Manawatū out to a 14-0 start, but Hawke's Bay responded with two tries in seven minutes to halfback Brad Weber before back replacement Lolagi Visinia grabbed a try just out from halftime for Hawke's Bay to claim the lead at the break.
Manawatū 17 (Siua Maile 2 tries; Brett Cameron 2 con, pen) Hawke's Bay 43(Brad Weber 2, Lolagi Visinia, Lincoln McClutchie, Tyrone Thompson tries; McClutchie 5 con). HT: 17-19