Rugby: Northland take final playoff spot as NPC quarter-finals confirmed

Tamati Tua of Northland is congratulated after scoring a try in his side’s key win. Photo/Getty

Northland 41
Manawatu 24

Northland have kept alive their shot at history with a second win in five days – but now face the toughest task in provincial rugby.

The Taniwha, who have never taken top honors in the NPC, booked their ticket to the quarter-finals with a comprehensive victory over Manawatū in Kaikohe today.

That triumph, along with their dramatic away win against Bay of Plenty on Wednesday, saw Northland leapfrog Tasman into fourth, setting up a knockout clash with Canterbury in Christchurch.

The top qualifiers have lost only once all season, scoring the most tries in the competition and conceding the fewest in their conference, but they were less than convincing while edging Otago on Saturday.

And Northland will head south full of hope after showing their potential by beating Auckland earlier in the year and dominating Canterbury in the first half before falling to a 46-17 defeat last month.

“We’ve just got to go down and take the Cantabs up front,” Northland captain Matt Matich told Sky Sport. “I think we had them for 40 last time so if we could do it for 80, nothing’s impossible. We’re going there to win.”

That was the simple equation facing his side today, having done the hard part during the week by upsetting third-placed Bay of Plenty in Tauranga through Dan Hawkins’ last-gasp penalty.

But in addition to a winless Manawatū side – who concluded a miserable campaign in which they conceded an average of 47.3 points across 10 games – Matich said the home side were also battling fatigue after a busy week.

“That was a slog. I was just buggered the whole 80. I was surprised when they didn’t sub me off because I thought I was the most tired on the field.

“Storm week’s kind of easy because you just do a captain’s run and then you play – I mean it’s easy if you win. We got the win on Wednesday and we just knew we had to come out and get a win and we were in the finals. So there was everything to play for.”

The conference’s second quarter-final will see North Harbor host Auckland while the other side of the draw will feature Wellington welcoming Hawke’s Bay and Waikato hosting Bay of Plenty.

The Lions sealed the top spot on Sunday by thumping Counties Manukau 64-31 in Pukekohe, as hooker Asafo Aumua snagged four tries, while Waikato earned hosting rights in the playoffs with a pulsating 35-34 victory over the Steamers in Hamilton.

With little more than five minutes to play, it looked like the teams would be making the trip to Tauranga for next week’s quarter-final rematch. Bay of Plenty were clinging to a 13-point advantage, having led 34-14 early in the second half, before they were stunned by a double strike from the hosts.

After prop Haereiti Hetet was sent to the sin bin, Waikato scored through Luke Jacobson from the subsequent scrum, and in the 78th minute Patrick McCurran crossed to set up a decisive conversion attempt for Damian McKenzie.

The first five-eighth made no mistake from the right of the posts, making it 21 unanswered points and securing home comforts for another week.

Northland 41 (Rob Rush, Tamati Tua, Matt Moulds, Rivez Reihana, Josh Moorby, Matt Matich tries; Rivez Reihana 3 cons, Dan Hawkins con, pen)
Manawatu 24 (Tima Fainga’anuku, Josh Taula, Logan Henry 2 tries; Sam Clarke 2 cons)
Half time: 19-5


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