Auckland, who beat Waikato 23-18 at Eden Park, will host last season's champions, Tasman after they beat Bay of Plenty 19-10 in Nelson. Hawke's Bay will look to cap their successful Ranfurly Shield-winning season with promotion to the Premiership when hosting the Northland side who ended Otago's hopes 32-19 in Dunedin on Friday.
Auckland 23 Waikato 18
Defence wins matches, and that was about all that saved Auckland from what would have been a humiliating loss to a gallant Waikato whose hopes died only in the last play of the game when penalised at a breakdown in front of Auckland's posts. Replacement lock Jack Whetton contested the tackle ball and won the decision to allow Auckland to kick the ball out to claim the 23-18 win. That was just as well because for much of the game Auckland's weakness was their attitude with simple mistakes, easy penalties conceded which Waikato were able to take advantage of to lead 15-11 at the turn. That was the result of taking advantage of Auckland's mistakes, the first at a Waikato kick that was touched by Auckland in flight which put everyone onside. In the aftermath, a chance created saw hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho take advantage to open the scoring. Then a midfield error when Auckland dropped the ball was snapped up and moved to the flank for veteran flanker Adam Thomson to score and with a penalty goal landed by wing Beaudein Waaka, Waikato were out to a 15-6 lead. Finally, something clicked for Auckland. Space created on the blindside of a ruck for wing Salesi Rayesi, saw him make no mistake. In the long run, it was the 10 minutes after halftime that sealed the deal for Auckland. Their mid-fielders struck in succession. First, it was second five-eighths Tanielu Tele'a who ran onto an overhead pass from first five-eighths Harry Plummer to step through the defence to claim the lead. Then, Rayasi took a long pass from Plummer, to link with fullback Zarn Sullivan, with support from halfback Jonathan Ruru. He had centre Tumua Manu run off him to break the defence and race in at the corner. The errors didn't stop but, fortunately, the Auckland defence that has been so strong during the season came to light, often through outstanding flanker Adrian Choat, and their place in the final was secure.
Scorers: Auckland 23 (Salesi Rayasi, Tanielu Tele'a, Tumua Manu tries; Zarn Sullivan pen; Harry Plummer con, pen) Waikato 18 (Samisone Taukei'aho, Adam Thomson tries; Beaudein Waaka con, 2 pen). HT: 11-15
Tasman 19 Bay of Plenty 10
Defending champions Tasman were given a searching test by a determined Bay of Plenty side who packed plenty of defensive aggression into their attempt to secure a final berth. But, in the end, it was the Tasman knowhow when opportunities presented themselves that marked the difference. That was down to hooker Quentin MacDonald crossing 20 minutes into the game and then wing Leicester Fainga'anuku backing that up with the second try four minutes later. It proved a vital phase in the game. Bay of Plenty scored through wing Joe Webber just before halftime when taking advantage of a yellow card to flanker Sione Havili. But, as much as they tried in the second half, they were unable to get through the defence to post more tries. Tasman employed a kicking game to keep the pressure on the visitors with halfback Finlay Christie giving the ball plenty of air from the base of rucks. With quick support to maintain pressure, there was little chance for Bay of Plenty to run the ball back. When it did, it was usually the will-of-the-wisp style of second five-eighths Chase Tiatia that caused problems. However, discipline at key moments let them down, and Tasman five-eighths Mitch Hunt was able to land two penalty goals to one by Kaleb Trask, the Bay of Plenty fullback to keep Tasman beyond the seven-point margin.
Scorers: Tasman 19 (Quentin MacDonald, Leicester Fainga'anuku tries; Mitchell Hunt 3 pen) Bay of Plenty 10 (Joe Webber try; Kaleb Trask con, pen). HT: 13-7
Otago 19 Northland 32
Two long passes by Northland signalled their intent in the eighth minute at Forsyth Barr Stadium as they negated much of Otago's defence in getting the ball to wing Jone Macalai. He pushed off his marker, cut inside another and scored a startling opener for the Taniwha. Fullback Matt Wright was sin-binned for a deliberate knockdown when Otago were camped on the line. Northland beat back the home side, only to halfback Sam Nock's attempted clearing kick charged down. Otago took advantage of the diminished defence to score. In that situation, there are few players you would less want to see have the ball fall into their arms than wing Jona Nareki, and he demonstrated why that was the case in cutting through to score. Just on halftime, the Otago pack were mauling towards the line and, when the ball emerged, first five-eighths Josh Ioane found wing Josh Timu running an acute angle to take the ball and then cut back to score with the conversion giving Otago a 12-10 halftime lead. Having reclaimed the lead with a Johnny Cooper penalty goal, Northland went further ahead when captain and hooker Jordan Olsen went over from a rolling lineout maul. But a piece of Ioane magic stepping in Northland's goalmouth that provided space for second five-eighths Sio Tomkinson used to go round behind the posts. Northland lock Sam Caird showed footwork of his own when making a midfield break into open space and then finding Nock with his pass for him to score. Northland got back onto attack and used their forward power again for replacement loose forward Matt Matich to score the matchwinner.
Scorers: Otago 19 (Jona Nareki, Josh Timu, Sio Tomkinson tries; Josh Ioane 2 con) Northland 32 (Jone Macilai, Sam Nock, Jordan Olsen, Matt Matich tries; Johnny Cooper con, 2 pen; Wiseguy Faiane 2 con). HT: 12-10
Hawke's Bay 59 Taranaki 23
Taranaki got out to a 6-0 lead early in Napier, and while it took the Ranfurly Shield holders 20 minutes to get into gear. Lock Geoff Cridge got them started when driving over for the first try, but Taranaki responded with a well-constructed try for wing Lukas Halls to reclaim the lead. However, two Hawke's Bay tries in three minutes, the first another driving effort to flanker Solomone Funaki was followed by a trimmer to prop Pouri Rakete-Stones. With a stunning burst of speed, he outpaced the Taranaki defenders to run through to pick up a grubber kick slipped through to the goalmouth by centre Stacey Ili. Just before halftime, they picked up the first of three that hooker Ash Dixon would score. He scored the first of the second, but the Bay were only getting started with halfback Folau Fakatava running from off a ruck just outside Hawkes' Bay's 22m area to show his speed in clearing out to score. Fakatava was soon involved again. Following a sideline burst made by flanker Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Fakatava was on hand to accept a pass and then feed Dixon who burst over in tackles for his hat-trick. Taranaki pulled back two tries of their own to their replacement hooker Ricky Riccitelli and prop Donald Brighouse. But, in contrast to the running tries Hawke's Bay unleashed, they were more pedestrian lineout maul affairs. Their last try summed up the quality of their effort. Fullback Kurt Baker used turnover ball to put a kick ahead from his own 22m area. Replacement first five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie got the ball, charged ahead, and then put in a centring kick which wing Jonah Lowe took. When tackled, just short of the line, he had replacement Connor McLeod on hand to complete the try.
Scorers: Hawke's Bay 59 (Geoff Cridge, Solomone Funaki, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Ash Dixon 3, Folau Fakatava, Connor McLeod tries; Caleb Makene con; Lincoln McClutchie 7 con, pen) Taranaki 23 (Lukas Halls, Ricky Riccitelli, Donald Brighouse tries; Jayson Potroz con, 2 pen). HT: 28-11