Neighbours North Harbour and Auckland will contest the first quarterfinal of the weekend on Friday night. North Harbour having raced to a stunning 66-8 win over Southland while Auckland produced a strong second half to beat Taranaki 38-24.
While the top four were assured after Otago failed to contain Canterbury in the Evens Conference, it came down to final placings with Bay of Plenty and Waikato going into their final game with one point between them in the Odds Conference. There was also one point between them on the field with Waikato getting home 35-34 to claim home advantage in a repeat game while Canterbury will host Northland.
Wellington secured top spot in the Odds Conference and a home quarterfinal against Hawke’s Bay with a commanding 64-31 win over Counties Manukau.
Canterbury's Fergus Burke became the third player to reach 100 points for the competition, on 102. Bryn Gatland, for North Harbour, has 129 points while Waikato's Damian McKenzie is on 113. Riley Hohepa's season for Counties Manukau ended with him on 99 points while Bay of Plenty's Kaleb Trask in 88 and Hawke's Bay's Lincoln McClutchie is on 86.
North Harbour's Tevita Li has most tries with 12, with BOP's Emoni Narawa on eight, with Tasman's Macca Springer.
Quarter Final Schedule:
Friday 7 October 7:05pm
QF1: North Harbour (2) vs. Auckland (3)
North Harbour Stadium (North Shore)
Saturday 8 October 2:05pm
QF2: Wellington (1) vs. Hawke’s Bay (4)
SKY Stadium (Wellington)
Saturday 8 October 4:35pm
QF3: Canterbury (1) vs. Northland (4)
Orangetheory Stadium (Canterbury)
Sunday 9 October 2.05pm
QF4: Waikato (2) vs. Bay of Plenty (3)
FMG Stadium, Hamilton (Hamilton)
Bay of Plenty 21 Northland 23
Both sides had early tries ruled out, Northland when fullback Josh Moorby had a home hand beneath the ball, and Bay of Plenty when wing Sekuini Tanimo rolled once too often in a tackle. But BOP did score from a lineout drive when prop Veveni Lasaga was propelled across the line with the ball. Northland went back on immediate attack and after the big men did the hit-up work, Moorby was on the end of an inside pass from first five-eighths Rivez Reihana to break into space and over. It appeared a lovely Reihana break set-up a try to wing Jone Macilai-Tori but the flier put a foot on the sideline. There was some doubt a few minutes before halftime when No8 Matt Matich charged down the right flank to score but referee Ben O'Keefe and his TMO awarded the try.
Up 15-5, Northland conceded two penalty goals before finally giving Macilai-Tori another chance on the wing. He took a huge lofted pass from Moorby, and survived two tackle attempts to get the ball down at full stretch. BOP were not done and after replacement wing Emoni Narawa took a gap, halfback Luke Donaldson scored to get within two points. First five-eighths Wharenui Hawera's 45m goal gave BOP a 21-20 lead with eight minutes left. But in the dying act of the game, Northland over-powered a BOP scrum feed and claimed a penalty which replacement Daniel Hawkins converted from 45m out.
Bay of Plenty 21 (Veveni Lasaga, Luke Donaldson Wharenui Hawera con, 3 pen) Northland 23 (Josh Moorby, Matt Matich, Jone Macilai-Tori tries; Rivez Reihana con; Daniel Hawkins pen). HT: 5-15
Hawke's Bay 25 Tasman 17
Hawke's Bay reverted to what it does best to get a key hold on this game with its pack providing a secure foundation. Their rolling lineout maul produced the opening try for hooker Tyrone Thompson. They looked to employ it again, but Tasman managed to apply a brake, however, the ball was kicked by Danny Toala and wing Neria Fomai needed no second asking to take the ball to extend the score. Tasman showed their attacking propensity with halfback Noah Hotham scoring.
Down 10-17 at the turn, Tasman looked to halt the Bay dominance up front and evened things out but not enough to deny the home team. Fomai scored a second to extend the margin although Tasman narrowed it again with Viliami Napa'a scoring a late try. Hawke's Bay still faced a wait over the weekend to see if Otago could get up over Canterbury to deny them a place in the quarterfinals.
Hawke's Bay 25 (Tyrone Thompson, Neria Fomai 2, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u tries; Lincoln McClutchie con, pen) Tasman 17 (Noah Hotham, Viliami Napa'a tries; Taine Robinson con, pen; William Havili con). HT: 17-10
Southland 8 North Harbour 66
Sunny conditions on a superb Rugby Park surface in Invercargill weren't enough to prevent North Harbour raining tries during a stunning 10-minute burst before halftime to go to the break leading Southland 35-3. Reduced to 14-men after fullback Robbie Robinson was sin-binned, Southland saw four tries posted against them, two of them scored by flying wing Tevita Li, whose second try left defenders bruised, in a 50m burst of power and speed combined. Running the ball at will, even from their goal-line North Harbour revelled in the conditions and the home side had no response.
They opened up their bag of tricks in the second half with halfback Jamie Booth repeating his first-half effort of scoring the first try. The continuity and support play of the visitors was reflected when wing Mark Telea, not for the first time, created an opening, which was best seen when lock Jay Fonokalafi ranged up outside him and then had the speed to run in the try. There was a late chance for Southland to make a comparable play by creating room on the left flank for wing Michael Manson to show his speed in a 60m run down the grandstand touch to score a consolation try.
Southland 8 (Michael Manson try; Robbie Robinson pen) North Harbour 66 (Jamie Booth 2, Tevita Li 3, Shaun Stevenson, Bryn Gatland, Jay Fonokalafi tries; Gatland 7 con; Jack Heighton con). HT: 3-35
Auckland 38 Taranaki 24
Taranaki looked to be on course to create a significant upset when getting out to a 17-3 lead over Auckland in wet conditions at Eden Park. First five-eighths Stephen Perofeta demonstrated what a handful he can be in providing key assists for centre Daniel Rona's try, and in keeping the pressure on the home side who suffered injury losses of wing Salesi Rayasi, flanker Adrian Choat and midfield back Bryce Heem. The Taranaki pack looked all over the home side, a point obvious in hooker Ricky Riccitelli's lineout maul try.
But halftime proved useful for the home side. They got their direction back and within four minutes loose forward replacement Terrell Peita scored the first of his two tries, to be followed by prop Angus Ta'avao as Auckland levelled the scores after 10 minutes. Perofeta created something from nothing close to the goal-line for wing Kini Naholo to score. It proved brief respite as Auckland proved dominant in the final quarter with wing AJ Lam scoring twice and Pieta crossing for his second, as Auckland finally claimed a playoffs berth.
Auckland 38 (Terrell Peita 2, Angus Ta'avao, AJ Lam 2 tries; Harry Plummer 4 con, pen; Simon Hickey con) Taranaki 24 (Daniel Rona, Ricky Riccitelli, Kini Naholo tries; Stephen Perofeta 3 con, pen). HT: 3-17
Otago 21 Canterbury 27
Otago set the standard for this latest clash between the southern neighbours, flanker James Lentjes capping a move with a try that started with left-wing Jona Nareki breaking the defensive line in Otago's half. Typically, Canterbury responded, and scored two tries in quick succession, the first to lock Luke Romano and the second to centre Braydon Ennor in a solo effort of 50m where his speed held off the home defence. Otago came back before the turn with centre Josh Timu crossing from a goal-line ruck.
While Canterbury reclaimed the lead through a penalty goal to first five-eighths Fergus Burke, Otago struck back with Nareki's in-field grubber kick being picked up by fullback Sam Gilbert and providing a try for replacement Kieran McClea. Canterbury came back to within a point when Burke scored. Then with 16 minutes left, wing Manasa Mataele, 90m from Otago's line, set out on a run that beat three tacklers, linked with second five-eighths Rameka Pohipi and then got a return pass to score the match-winner.
Otago 21 (James Lentjes, Josh Timu, Kieran McClea tries; Cameron Millar 3 con) Canterbury 27 (Luke Romano, Braydon Ennor, Fergus Burke, Manasa Mataele tries; Burke con, pen; Chay Fihaki con). HT: 14-12
Counties Manukau 31 Wellington 64
Wellington turned up in Pukekohe with determination, and some devilment, in store for the home team and raced to a 38-7 lead with some thrilling running rugby putting the pressure on the home defences. Hooker Asafo Aumua was on after only six minutes when James O'Reilly pulled up with a serious looking leg injury. But if Counties Manukau thought that would be to their benefit Aumua went on a one-man wrecking mission resulting in four tries, three of them allowing him to put his speed to use.
Lovely timing, superb handling and consistent support play between backs and forwards, kept the scoreboard ticking over as Wellington ran in 10 tries. Counties were not without their moments and replacement hooker Ioane Moananu showed that Aumua wasn't the only hooker who could score tries out in the backline as he picked up two with prop Kauvaka Kaivelata having the last say as Counties Manukau managed to pull back some of the margin before the end.
Counties Manukau 31 (Samuel Slade, Peniasi Malimaili, Ioane Moananu 2, Kauvaka Kaivelata tries; Riley Hohepa 2 con; Cameron Roigard con) Wellington 64 (Riley Higgins, Connor Garden-Bachop, Asafo Aumua 4, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Ruben Love, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Billy Proctor tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 7 con). HT: 7-38
Northland 41 Manawatū 24
Confidence resulting from their much-improved season saw Northland apply the pressure on Manawatū from early in their Kaikohe game. Using wide balls with precise effect gained good ground with flanker Rob Rush on the receiving end of a ball from first five-eighths Rivez Reihana. Centre Tamati Tua scored after a combination of a long pass, a centring kick, and a Manawatū error on the goal-line, to score his try. Manawatū replied with a long ball of their own which wing Tima Fainga'anuku put to good use to muscle his way over.
Then, quick thinking at a penalty in front of the Manawatū posts by halfback Sam Nock saw the tap penalty provide Reihana with a scoring chance. Manawatū did stage a comeback when scoring tries through bench players Josh Taula and Logan Henry midway through the half, as they pulled the score back to 26-19, but then fullback Josh Moorby and No8 Matt Matich were involved in two fine attacking movements to score a try apiece to put the issue beyond doubt and secure a playoffs place for the Northerners in Christchurch next weekend.
Northland 41 (Rob Rush, Tamati Tua, Matt Moulds, Rivez Reihana, Josh Moorby, Matt Matich tries; Reihana 3 con; Daniel Hawkins con, pen) Manawatū 24 (Tima Fainga'anuku, Josh Taula, Logan Henry 2 tries; Sam Clarke 2 con). HT: 19-5
Waikato 35 Bay of Plenty 34
A three-try burst by Waikato in the last 30 minutes, backed by consistent goal-kicking from first five-eighths Damian McKenzie, saw them come back from a 14-34 deficit to edge ahead of Bay of Plenty two minutes from the end in Hamilton. As a result, the two sides will do battle again, also at FMG Stadium as Waikato finished in second place in the group. Using an effective aerial game, Bay of Plenty looked to have put themselves in a winning position with wing Leroy Carter scoring twice to go alongside tries by halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and hooker Kurt Eklund.
But in the face of determined Waikato play in the loose, spearheaded by No8 Luke Jacobson, back from All Blacks duty and Patrick McCurran, who scored the match-winning try off the bench, Bay of Plenty were unable to maintain their defensive hold and they paid the price as McKenzie landed the vital conversion, his 100 percent rate for conversions proving a key asset for Waikato.
Waikato 35 (Sosefo Kautai, Laghlan McWhannell, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Luke Jacobson, Patrick McCurran tries; Damian McKenzie 5 con) Bay of Plenty 34 (Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Kurt Eklund, Leroy Carter 2, Joey Walton tries: Kaleb Trask 3 con, pen). HT: 14-22