Waikato find themselves atop the Premiership after Auckland were beaten by North Harbour while Canterbury are in danger of missing a playoffs place after being thumped by Bay of Plenty.
Hawke's Bay, who retained the Ranfurly Shield, and Otago share the top of the Championship with Northland and Taranaki still in the hunt for places.
Results from the weekend were:
Northland had high hopes they would follow up last season's 40-10 win to make it consecutive victories over Otago and with Otago dropping Josh Ioane and Vilimoni Koroi for disciplinary reasons their chances were good. But Otago dug deep and had wing Freedom Vaha'akolo ranging far and wide to score the first two tries in either corner in the first half. And, as any Otago team knows, when you have a lineout in the opposition's 22m area you take the ball and rumble, a tactic that saw prop Josh Hohneck and replacement hooker Ricky Jackson score from mauls. Northland did manage to get on the board, courtesy of some quick hands on the blindside for Rene Ranger to run in down the right flank to score.
Otago 30 (Freedom Vaha'akolo 2, Josh Hohneck, Ricky Jackson tries; Jono Hickey 2 con, 2 pen) Northland 7 (Rene Ranger try; Dan Hawkins con). HT: 13-0
Canterbury have enjoyed using Bay of Plenty as something of a whipping boy in recent seasons but retribution for those trials proved satisfying for Bay of Plenty as they posted 44 points against the traditional competition heavyweight in Tauranga. Chase Tiatia had been on the receiving often enough not to enjoy being part of payback, scoring two tries, the first on the end of an orthodox back movement which rewarded the second five-eighths' support play and the second from a charge down and recovery. And it was orthodoxy that saw wing Joe Webber play a key role in winning a penalty try, and then capping turnover ball to score in the corner. It was also his in-pass that created fullback Kaleb Trask's try before replacement Scott Curry scored the final try off more support play when Canterbury failed to control a bouncing ball.
Bay of Plenty 44 (Chase Tiatia 2, Joe Webber, Kaleb Trask, Scott Curry tries; Penalty try; Trask 3 con, 2 pen) Canterbury 8 (Cameron Grace try; Fergus Burke pen). HT: 22-3
Manawatu made a strong start to their Ranfurly Shield challenge scoring the first try to midfield back James Tofa, but it wasn't sustainable and Hawke's Bay were quick to respond. They were able to run in four tries in the second quarter and punish Manawatu who, while responding with a second try, suffered severe defensive lapses. Home first five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie was an outstanding general with a chip kick creating a try for second five-eighths Danny Toala, an in-pass opening space for No8 Devan Flanders to score, and a break creating the try chance taken by fullback Caleb Makene. As for flanker Brendon O'Connor's try, it highlighted the poor defence when he got up after not being held in a tackle. The second half was not as flashy but the tries continued as Hawke's Bay moved the ball around effectively, especially when close to the line.
Hawke's Bay 47 (Danny Toala, Devan Flanders, Caleb Makene, Brendon O'Connor, Ash Dixon, Neria Fomai, Isaia Walker-Leawere tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 con; Connor McLeod 2 con) Manawatu 12 (James Tofa, Ben Wyness tries; Wyness con). HT: 28-12
Last time North Harbour hosted Auckland they ran in 52 points to 10 and being at home they absorbed two early tries to the visitors that were the sort of slick-passing efforts to wing AJ Lam and centre Tumua Manu that spelled trouble for North Harbour. But the home team hung in, courtesy of first five-eighths' Bryn Gatland's goal-kicking and, at the start of the second half, they turned on their own razzle-dazzle when centre James Little signalled his side's recovery with a lovely piece of evasive running to score. Then, to accentuate their growing confidence, they marched the Auckland pack 22m to claim a rolling maul try. Auckland came back, with No8 Akira Ioane capping a commanding game by scoring with four minutes left, however, North Harbour hung onto their one-point advantage to add extra lift into their Premiership campaign.
North Harbour 23 (James Little, Luteru Tolai tries; Bryn Gatland 2 con, 3 pen) Auckland 22 (AJ Lam, Tumua Manu, Akira Ioane tries; Harry Plummer 2 con, pen). HT: 9-15
Try as Southland might with strong defence, they couldn't hold the Tasman tide and it swamped the visitors in Nelson during a productive second half. Tasman were only ahead 7-3 at the break. But, once fullback David Havili found some space to score, the floodgates opened. Havili scored two tries and centre Fetuli Paea also got over the line twice as the intensity of some scything Southland tackles diminished. Southland did strike back immediately after Havili's first, with No8 and captain Tony Lamborn going straight over the top of a breakdown to score, but that proved the last showing from Southland who were forced to compete without sufficient ball against a team whose speed and co-ordination returned to set up their last three weeks of the regular season.
Tasman 47 (T Fox-Matamua, David Havili 2, F Paea 2, Mitchell Hunt, Sione Havili tries; Hunt 4 con; T O'Malley 2 con) Southland 10 (Tony Lamborn try; Greg Dyer con, pen). HT: 7-3
Just after the halftime break home team Counties Manukau were sitting on a 20-11 lead over Wellington after first five-eighths Jason Robertson ran a superb angle to take a pass from No8 Kieran Read to slice through under the posts. But, Wellington responded immediately with hooker James O'Reilly, matching his first-half try by running down the sideline off a pass from flanker Vaea Fifita to score. Then two Wes Goosen intercepts, one disallowed and the other successful for the wing, broke the deadlock and Wellington made sure they didn't look back. No sooner had they settled down than Fifita pulled off another intercept to run 60m unchallenged to score. Fifita scored again before the end of the game, picking the ball from the back of a ruck and going straight through the middle to score. That followed a pushover scrum try for No8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas moments earlier.
Counties Manukau 20 (Latiume Fosita, Jason Robertson tries; Robertson 2 con, 2 pen) Wellington 53 (James O'Reilly 2, Xavier Numia, Wes Goosen, Vaea Fifita 2, Teariki Ben-Nicholas; Jackson Garden-Bachop 4 con, 2 pen; A Morgan 2 con). HT: 13-11
Waikato never needs much motivation when up against Taranaki and so it proved in the last game of the round, in Hamilton. There wasn't much between them in the first half which ended with Waikato 13-10 in front. But the injection of Rivez Reihana from the bench to first five-eighths resulted in a surge of energy from the home team, first of all when he supported a break by skipper and flanker Luke Jacobson to regain the lead heading into the final quarter. Five minutes later Reihana broke in the Taranaki 22m area and fed player-of-the-match Liam Messam in for a try to give Waikato a necessary buffer. Taranaki were always dangerous and that showed when wing Jacob Ratumaitaivuku-Kneepkens scored his second try. It came from a turnover in their own 22. The ball was moved down the left flank and then transferred quickly back across field for the try in the right corner. Taranaki went into the last few moments looking to repeat the effort but had to concede when a dropped pass denied them their chance in injury time.
Waikato 27 (Beaudein Waaka, Rivez Reihana, Liam Messam tries; Fletcher Smith con, 2 pen; Reihana 2 con) Taranaki 20 (Jacob Ratumaitaivuki-Kneepkens 2, D Rona tries; Jayson Potroz con, pen). HT: 13-10