Auckland dominated unbeaten Waikato to cosign the former leaders to their first defeat of the Premiership. Hawke’s Bay secured a semi-final place with a gusty victory over Bay of Plenty while Canterbury punished an ill-discipline Counties despite two tries from Ruby Tui.
In the championship, Manawatū scored two tries in the last three minutes against Otago to remain unbeaten while Taranaki enjoyed their first win since 2021. Northland overpowered Tasman and earned the week off with the Cyclones.
The quarter-finals in the Championship are Otago v North Harbour and Tasman v Taranaki with the home team listed first.
Taranaki: 31 (Louise Blyde 2, Eva Martin 2, Brooke Neilson tries; Laura Claridge 3 con) North Harbour: 19 (Moana Courtenay 2, Grace Freeman tries; Grace Freeman 2 con). HT: 21-12
After 14 consecutive losses, half of those conceding 40-plus points, Taranaki won its first FPC game since 2021 at the Onewa Domain.
A blistering start had the Whio ahead 21-0 in as many minutes. In the previous four games, they’d managed a solitary try.
North Harbour regrouped and rallied bravely to be in touch at halftime but when Louise Blyde (cousin of Black Ferns Sevens star Michaela Blyde) sizzled clear in the 46th minute the Hibiscus was always chasing.
The forward effort of Taranaki was immense with hooker Leah Barnard, blindside Elle Johns and No.8 Brooke Neilson leading the charge. Louise is at least the fifth Blyde to play first-class rugby.
Centre Moana Courtenay and Grace Freeman have had positive seasons for North Harbour. The pack was effective in patches but will be disappointed to succumb in this fixture.
Canterbury: 33 (Holly Wratt-Groeneweg 2, Karla Wright-Akeli, Georgia Ponsonby tries; Rosie Kelly 2 con, 3 pen) Counties Manukau Heat: 17 (Ruby Tui 2, Mererangi Paul tries; Mererangi Paul con). HT: 14-7
Counties started with vibrance, precision, and aggression making inroads up the middle of the Canterbury defense and scoring the first try when Ruby Tui did her best Sam Kerr impersonation dribbling the ball 25m following a spillage by the hosts.
Earlier, fullback Mererangi Paul should have taken a pass from Tui with the goal-line at her mercy. Some desperate cover from Grace Brooker did help avert the danger for Canterbury. Brooker tugged at the jersey of Tui slowing her momentum.
Unfortunately, appalling discipline would be a source of disintegration for the Heat. The visitors conceded the first dozen penalties and lost two players to the sin bin. Openside Stacey Brown saw yellow for a high tackle in the first half and Vineta Teutau was binned for a no-arms shot in the 65th minute, as Georgia Ponsonby profited from the rolling maul to bag Canterbury their bonus point.
Rosie Kelly kept the scoreboard ticking over from Counties infractions and was a steady hand in general play. Fullback Karla Wright-Akeli continued her hot form and has nine tries in four matches in 2023.
Perhaps the most eye-catching performer was University of Canterbury Viperettes flanker Holly Wratt-Groeneweg. She was commanding in the tackle, competitive over the ball and her second try is a candidate for one of the best forward rushes of the season.
Relentless rain made handling and footing tricky at Lansdowne Park, Blenheim. Northland won the contest convincingly with a forward effort that got stronger and more disciplined.
It took 20 minutes for any points to be scored and they came from the boot of Cassie Siataga as Tasman threatened inside the 22.
Former Black Ferns Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and Ahora Savage were at the forefront of a direct forward game that gradually tired the Makos resistance close to the ruck.
A try to Ocean Tierney on the left wing would be one of the last occasions Northland showed real expanse. Two rolling maul tries were a tribute to the weather and the efficient Northland lineout.
In the backs, Harmony Covacich and Serai Murray-Wihongi were elusive. Co-Captain and No.8 Hikitia Wikaira is having a tremendous season.
For Tasman little was getting through Chloe Dixon and Sui Paiaraisa was dogged.
Manawatū: 31 (Hollyrae Mete 2, Jashana Tetue-Teuawiri, Marilyn Fanoga, Maia Davis tries; Selica Winiata 3 con) Otago: 27 (Keely Hill 2, Jamie Church 2, Cheyenne Cunningham tries; Cormick con). HT: 12-20
At University of Otago Oval, the Spirit were three minutes away from ruining the occasion of Selica Winiata’s 100th match.
Down 27-19 it took a try to New Zealand Under 18 Sevens representative Maia Davis to spark hopes of a Cyclones resurgence.
Winiata is so often the catalyst for the attack. This time it was a turnover on defense that helped the visitors push for victory. Hollyrae Mete, another national age group representative, scored the winning try to cap a wonder game. The centre has a powerful fend, sound distribution, and some pace.
Otago scored three tires directly from turnovers with No.8 Bella Rewiri-Wharera performing strongly against her former province. Jamie Church is enhancing her growing reputation.
Hawke’s Bay: 35 (Denise Aiolupotea 2, Kahlia Awa, Tori Iosefo, Tamia Edwards tries; Krysten Cottrell 5 con) Bay of Plenty: 28 (Luka Connor 2, Te Urupounamu McGarvey, Grace Parata-Stewart, Kesha Church tries; Kiki Tahere pen). HT: 21-20
Hawke’s Bay spent six seasons in the championship between 2017 and 2022. In 2023 they have three wins in the Premiership and will qualify for the semi-finals regardless of the outcome of their match against Counties next Saturday.
In heavy conditions at Whakatāne Rugby Park seven of the ten tries were scored by front rowers. Black Ferns hooker Luka Connor was always going to thrive in that environment but the display of loosehead Denise Aiolupotea, general manager of Hawke’s Bay netball, was just as compelling. The Tui’s offloading and support play was of a good standard.
Halfback Kahlia Awa preformed vibrantly and scored a crucial runaway try. The steady hand of first-five Krysten Cottrell ensured the visitors had a marginal edge in territory when it most counted.
Auckland: 25 (Braxton Sorenson-McGee, Angelica Vahai, Liana Mikaele-Tu'u tries; Ruahei Demant 2 con, 2 pen) Waikato: 15 (Chyna Hohepa, Aaliyah Konui tries; Sammie Wood con, Ariana Bayler pen). HT: 3-8
Auckland wore down a large and abrasive Waikato pack to earn their fourth consecutive win at Colin Maiden Park.
The first half was a spluttering affair with brutal tackling providing little space for either team. The greasy conditions made handling awkward, and the scrum tussle was intensely consuming.
Waikato scored the first try from a stable scrum after half an hour. A brilliant decoy in midfield completely duped Blacks Ferns Ruahei Demant and Sylvia Brunt. Chyna Hohepa profited from the ingenuity of the visiting backs. Centre Ana Marsters and first-five Kiriana Nolan had their moments for the Mooloos.
Except for the last five minutes, Waikato didn’t venture into the Auckland 22 at all in the second half. The hosts won the collisions as Waikato discipline strayed and Demant controlled territory.
In the 69th minute, Black Ferns co-captain Kennedy Simon was sin binned, a scapegoat for repeated infringements. The levee broke with the Storm scoring 17 points in five minutes.
Two kicks from Demant, one driving Waikato deep into retreat and the other a pinpoint cross for wing Angelica Vahai stretched the margin beyond a converted try.
Demant broke again a short time later and Vahai delivered a rare pass for bruising No.8, Liana Mikaele-Tu'u.
Lock Elosie Blackwell and Maia Ross had outstanding games for Auckland with the latter making two slashing breaks. Tighthead Sophie Fisher is improving rapidly and diminutive openside Mizuho Kataoka was nuggety.
Waikato’s Victoria Makea tackles like a sledgehammer but too much defense ultimately took its toll.