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Air New Zealand Cup - Round 3 Review
Bay of Plenty lay claim to top spot
Scrum.com
August 16, 2009

Round three of the Air New Zealand Cup saw domestic returns for a host of All Blacks as the Tri-Nations entered its rest weekend.

Bay of Plenty maintained their unbeaten start to the season by handing Wellington their first defeat with a 21-17 success in Rotorua.

The Mike Delany-inspired hosts dominated the first spell to open up a 21-6 lead before withstanding a strong Wellington resurgence. The outcome of a match between the only remaining unbeaten teams will see Bay of Plenty go top through three rounds.

It was a superb result for a team who welcomed Sean Horan as their head coach midway through this week after Greg Smith had his contract terminated. Also in the news this week was Wellington mentor Jamie Joseph, who opted not to select most of the All Blacks players who became available to him.

Instead, Fullback Cory Jane, halfback Piri Weepu and prop Neemia Tialata were dispatched to play for Wellington B so as to not disrupt Joseph's team. The trio may have made a difference tonight, particularly in a woeful first half effort.

Errors plagued every part of their game as the Bay clamped control up front and fly-half Delany dominated with an astute kicking and running game. Centre Cory Aporo notched two tries with Delany adding three penalties and a conversion while his opposite number Daniel Kirkpatrick kicked two penalties in the opening half.

The introduction off the reserve bench of All Blacks No.8 Rodney So'oialo and fly-half Fa'atonu Fili added starch and sparkle to Wellington and flanker Scott Fuglistaller scored their only try - a slightly fortunate one as he appeared to be bundled out in the corner.

Fili slotted two penalties to bring his team into range but Wellington's dangerous counter-attacks broke down in the dying minutes ensuring victory for Bay of Plenty.

Auckland clambered off the bottom rung of the ladder with a 32-13 victory over Northland with several of their under-fire All Blacks finding some form.

Hosting its first national provincial match, the small Kerikeri Domain venue crammed in a crowd of 6000 to watch their side succumb to an Auckland team who were more efficient up front, opening up a 15-6 lead by half-time and turning with a breeze at their back.

The arrival of rain ensured the most successful side in provincial history would notch their first win this season, following losses to Hawke's Bay and Canterbury. Up front, prop John Afoa anchored a dominant scrum while his All Blacks flanker teammate Jerome Kaino ensured Auckland won more of the collisions.

Further out, winger Joe Rokocoko produced his best game in what has been a disappointing year so far, bagging a try-scoring double and constantly looking for work.

He scored the first of Auckland's four tries, popping up on the left flank to cross in the corner. He set up the second to fellow-winger Dave Thomas with a sweet angled run and pass while nice inside passes from Rokocoko and Afoa sent replacement halfback Auvasa Faleali'i over to quell a lively Northland period midway through the second spell.

The veteran winger sealed a bonus point for his team by driving over as the final hooter sounded. Young first five-eighth Ash Moeke landed five from six shots at goal for 12-point haul, enjoying the ride behind a dominant pack.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Hawke's Bay and Taranaki proved perfectly matched in an intense 24-24 draw at New Plymouth. Both teams were coming off losses from the previous week, but it was Taranaki who looked the more focused early on with fly-half Jack Cameron crossing for a score. A Mathew Berquist penalty closed the gap and they took control of the contest with tries for wing Jason Kupa and centre Jason Shoemark.

Although Berquist missed one conversion, he landed a later penalty to cancel out another Cameron three-pointer and Hawke's Bay looked well in control. Both teams were reduced to 14 players at the 30 minute mark when Australian referee Nathan Pearce sent Hawke's Bay prop Sona Taumalolo and Taranaki No.8 Jarrad Hoeata to the bin after a stoush at the breakdown. Neither team could take advantage, and Hawke's Bay went into the break with a useful 18-10 lead.

A Berquist penalty 13 minutes into the second half pushed Hawke's Bay's lead out to 11, but an improved Taranaki dug deep and responded almost immediately. Lock Jason Eaton closed the gap with a try but a Berquist penalty pushed Hawke's Bay's lead out to nine again with 15 minutes remaining. But Taranaki remained composed and Cameron tied the game up with three well-taken penalties.

Canterbury were a cut above a defensively frail Waikato and cruised to a 46-13 Air New Zealand Cup win on Friday. Waikato did not find their competitive edge until well into the second half in Christchurch but by that stage their fate had been sealed.

Canterbury dominated all facets to lead 29-6 at halftime and they were never threatened despite Waikato upping their work rate after the interval. The outcome was apparent for all to see after 40 minutes, with Canterbury having already pocketed three of their five tries and fly-half Dan Carter landing 14 points with the boot.

Carter's radar remained accurate for the duration as he finished with 19 points, slotting seven attempts before being subbed off in the 70th minute with the game in safe keeping.

Canterbury did not need a second invitation to pierce the defensive holes, as evidenced by a try to Wyatt Crockett midway through the second half when the prop punched through a big gap to dot down unopposed. Earlier, halfback Tyson Keats, swivelled and backed his way over the try-line from a ruck, and fullback Colin Slade hit the line at pace before getting on the outside of his marker.

In between these two first-half efforts centre Tim Bateman was gifted a try when he loomed on the inside of Slade, who changed the angle of attack after Carter crabbed across field throwing a couple of dummy passes before offloading to his fullback. It was all a touch too easy for the 2008 champions, who coughed up only a couple of penalties to Callum Bruce until lock Waikato Romana Graham scored a soft try himself in the 50th minute.

Replacement centre Adam Whitelock completed the try-scoring action in the 76th minute when the Waikato defence was yet again found wanting inside their 22.

Two emerging backs on the New Zealand radar proved to be the difference as Manawatu emerged as surprise 25-23 winners over Southland. Fleet-footed winger Andre Taylor and fly-half Aaron Cruden were the heroes of a spirited performance in Invercargill, scoring crucial tries early in the second-half of an exciting fixture.

Taylor bagged a double, having scored the only try of a tight first-half which saw the visitors open up an 8-3 lead. But it was Cruden who set up victory with a superb individual try that embarrassed All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan. The star of New Zealand's successful Under-20 world championship campaign this year, Cruden charged down an attempted Cowan box kick from a ruck and then out-sprinted him in a 45m race to the try-line.

It put the visitors 22-8 up after their halftime advantage was nullified by a try to Southland flanker John Hardie but the home side bounced back through two rapid tries of their own, to impressive prop Jamie Mackintosh and an intercept to centre Kenny Lynn. However, they ultimately paid for an inaccurate goal-kicking night from fullback Robbie Robinson, who landed just three from eight shots.

On Thursday, Otago rediscovered their finishing touches to beat North Harbour 29-9 in the opening game of the Air New Zealand Cup's third round. Poor finishing had cost Otago dearly in earlier, tight losses to Wellington and Southland but they had no complaints on that level at Carisbrook in Dunedin.

The foundations for their first win of the season were laid in the first-half when they crossed for three tries to lead 22-9 despite surrendering the possession and territory stakes to North Harbour. While the visitors were reliant on the boot of All Black fly-half Luke McAlister for their points, Otago prospered via the try-line which was visited by lock Tim Donnelly, wing Karne Hesketh and fullback Ben Smith.

Hesketh initiated the first of the tries in the 13th minute when he used his step and strength to make ground and maintain possession up the right flank. Two phases later Otago outnumbered North Harbour on the left where Donnelly strolled across for a soft opener. Hesketh scored the next himself, picking up a loose ball near the 22, standing up fullback Jack McPhee and muscling his way across the line despite the close attention of two defenders.

Just three minutes later Otago extended their lead when Smith chased a kick ahead and charged down McPhee's attempted clearance. The Otago defence was determined and it needed to be as North Harbour were twice denied, firstly when skipper Anthony Tuitavake was held up over the line then a touchdown by flanker Malakai Ravulo was ruled out due to a forward pass by McAlister.

Otago made a brief excursion deep into North Harbour territory late in the match and they made it count when a tap penalty from five metres out was turned into a bonus-point try to Noakes after a clever offload from Donnelly.

In the final game of the weekend, Tasman notched their second win of the season with a comprehensive 51-15 win over Counties Manukau at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.

Expertly marshalled by the steady eye and accurate boot of captain and fly-half Andrew Goodman, Tasman dominated from the start. Two tries apiece for Blair Cook, James Kamana and other for Sione Holani and Kade Poki saw them power to the bonus point victory.

Goodman kicked the perfect game, racking up 19 points from five conversions and three penalties, including one monster 52m effort early in the first half.

Counties Manukau's problems at the breakdown continued, Tasman's numbers and support play keeping the northerners constantly on the back foot. Tasman always looked threatening with the ball in hand and their backs reaped the reward.

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