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Air New Zealand Cup - Round 13 Review
Semi-final spots confirmed
Scrum.com & NZPA
October 25, 2009

Southland's Ranfurly Shield celebrations may have been tempered with the news that they face a trip to Wellington in the semi-finals while Hawke's Bay finished fourth and take on Canterbury.

Wellington overcame Tasman 22-14 in Blenheim to set up a home tie in the last four as they look to reach the final and right the result from last season. Having gone scoreless in their last two matches this was a much improved effort from Tasman who came up just short as they fight against being excluded from the competition next season.

They outscored Wellington 2-1 in tries, but their error and penalty counts were too high and they were punished by the boots of Piri Weepu and Fa'atonu Fili. Daniel Ramsey barrelled over for Wellington's only try after fifteen minutes, but James Marshall ran on to Andrew Goodman's grubber to score.

Daniel Perrin scored a second, but the hosts kept giving Weepu and Fili opportunities to kick goals and they were the difference as All Black Conrad Smith returned from injury to play 40 minutes.

Hawkes Bay's 32-13 win over Northland was eventually enough to secure a play-off spot against Canterbury after Waikato lost to Aucklnad on Saturday.

This was Hawkes Bay's sixth win in seven games, and tries from Jason Kupa and Sona Taumalolo had them in control, winning 20-6 at the break. Karl Lowe and Thomas Waldrom capped fine performances with second half tries. Matt Berquist kicked his way to the top of the season's scoring charts, while the match may have marked the end of Northland's former Leinster fly-half David Holwell's career.

In Friday's clash, Southland tackled their way into Ranfurly Shield folklore with a 9-3 triumph over Canterbury in Christchurch on Thursday, ending half a century of heartbreak. The 'Log of Wood' will reside in Invercargill until next season, the first time it has been in New Zealand's deep south since their one-match reign in 1959. The Stags also booked their place in next weekend's Air New Zealand Cup semi-finals.

In a front of a baying group of supporters that made the match feel like a home fixture for Southland, the players lifted in the second half after being battered on defence through the first period. Having survived all season on gutsy defence, the southerners did it again, going into halftime at 3-3.

They had the better of the second spell, and would have been unlucky to lose as they repelled a series of late Canterbury raids. The players leaped in a joyous team hug after fly-half Robbie Robinson kicked the ball out to end the game, in the knowledge they had lifted one of New Zealand rugby's most prized possessions.

Canterbury were always guaranteed top qualification for the semi-finals and lacked the vigour of the visitors, whose tactics of defending and relentlessly kicking for territory in damp conditions couldn't be cracked.But it was the Shield that meant most to the team and the supporters, who grew in confidence as Robinson slotted three penalties, in the 35th, 47th and 71st minutes.

His three-from-three return contrasted with a none-from-two effort from opposite Stephen Brett, whose 17th-minute drop-goal brought Canterbury's only points. Shorn of eight All Blacks, Canterbury still managed to dominate early possession and territory. Despite averaging 30 points a game, they rarely threatened the try-line against a Southland side who boast the best defence in the competition.

Canterbury's tenure lasted just three defences and captain George Whitelock cut a dismayed figure as he handed the Shield to Southland skipper Jamie Mackintosh, his team set to begin their sixth tenure as holders next season.

Taranaki surged home to beat Bay of Plenty 30-24 in an exciting finish to the regular season in Mt Maunganui. In a remarkable mid-table fixture which had no bearing on the playoffs, Taranaki came from 24-6 down at halftime - their three second-half tries trumping the hosts' four in the first spell.

Bay of Plenty reserve hooker Dean Elmiger nearly snatched victory in the final act but was held up over the try-line as referee Vinny Munro blew fulltime.

Two tries to Jason Hona - the first a 90m intercept - another to fellow-winger Zar Lawrence and the first try in lock John Moore's lengthy Bay of Plenty career suggested the verve was back as they powered clear. Willie Ripia scored Taranaki's only points before the break with two penalties but it all changed after the teams emerged from the sheds.

Pacy flanker Ben Souness scored a classy try off the tail end of the lineout, followed by another to lock Leon Power as the score-line was reduced to 24-20 with half an hour to play. Ripia knocked over his third penalty before his side hit the front for the first time with 7min remaining via a try to centre Paul Perez.

In Saturday's early kick-off comprehensive second-half turnaround saw Manawatu beat North Harbour 42-16 in Palmerston North.

There was little at stake barring pride for both teams - North Harbour, at 11th on the table, were just one point clear of 12th-placed Manawatu.

Winger Andre Taylor starred for Manawatu scoring 27 points with two tries, four conversions, two penalties and a dropped goal while the highly-rated youngster Aaron Cruden again impressed with his performance at fly-half.

In the final two games of the round on Saturday, Otago scraped to a narrow but rather drab 22-19 win over Counties Manukau thanks to the boot of Michael Witt while over in Hamilton, Auckland's 26-18 defeat of Waikato was the story of the day as they denied the hosts of their chance of making the play-offs - they needed a bonus point win to do so.

Auckland crushed those hopes of a semi-final berth with a win in a seesawing match at Waikato Stadium.

With the first three spots already sewn up by Canterbury, Wellington and Southland it went down to the final match of the round to confirm next week's semi-final line-ups.

Ahead 13-11 at halftime, Auckland defended staunchly throughout the second half, and were rewarded with their first win over Auckland since their 47-26 victory two years ago.

Callum Bruce and Ash Moeke exchanged early penalties before a ruck infringement from Peter Saili coupled with an earlier high-tackle from the player saw referee Bryce Lawrence lose patience with the player and reach for the yellow card.

Auckland didn't let their numerical disadvantage handicap them though as a beautifully timed pass from captain Benson Stanley sent centre Jamie Helleur into space to score.

The Waikato flank Jack Lam crossed soon after for his first try of the season but another Moeke penalty saw the visitors go into the break in front, although they lost Helleur just before the break with a nasty-looking knee injury.

Waikato started the second half strongly as they fought to keep their pay-off hopes alive, hitting the front barely two minutes after the restart when Trent Renata dotted down but yet again there was a response, this time Auckland's Charlie Faumuina powering over and two further Moeke penalties closed-out the game for the visitors.

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