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Air New Zealand Cup - Round 12 Review
Wellington and Auckland keep semi-final hopes alive
Scrum.com
October 18, 2009
Wellington's Daniel Ramsay is takes out in the air by North Harbour's Rudi Wulf, Wellington v North Harbour, Air New Zealand Cup, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, October 17, 2009
Wellington's Dan Ramsay is taken out by North Harbour's Rudi Wulf during their clash at the Westpac Stadium © Getty Images
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Wellington saw off a spirited North Harbour 37-13 at Westpac Stadium on Saturday to put themselves in with a great chance of making the play-offs.

In a fairly even game territory-wise, scores were level at 13-13 at half time, before Wellington's attacking quality showed throughout the second period in a four-tries-to-one victory.

Harbour's Ken Pisi crossed early after a turnover in Wellington's attacking area, but that was the only time a sturdy Wellington defence would be breached. Wellington skipper Jacob Ellison scored from close range late in the first half, before Alipate Leuia, Ma'a Nonu and Hosea Gear extended the lead in the second, earning their side a potentially crucial bonus point. Fa'atonu Fili was flawless with the boot, landing four conversions and three penalties.

With the bonus point secure, Wellington's influential fullback Cory Jane was taken off for a well earned rest, while the home side suffered a late concern with prop John Schwalger limping off with a potentially serious knee injury. Wellington will head into the last round in second place, where only an unlikely combination of results will knock them out of the top four.

A late bonus point try against Counties-Manukau kept Auckland steaming towards the Air New Zealand Cup semi-finals, although a significant obstacle awaits next week. The Aucklanders emerged satisfied with a 37-14 defeat of the competition's last-placed team at Eden Park after loose forward Peter Saili crashed over for a crucial fourth try two minutes from time.

It kept Auckland on the fringe of the playoffs in sixth place and licking their lips ahead of a virtual "quarter-final" in the final round against fifth placed Waikato in Hamilton on Saturday. The winners may well creep into the semis.

Things looked dicey at times for Auckland, leading just 10-7 at half-time after playing with the aid of a decent breeze. They were still just 20-14 up with 15 minutes remaining before All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino and Saili crossed late.

Auckland dominated first-half territory and fullback Paul Williams scored early but a lack of breakdown security kept their battling opponents in the picture. Counties-Manukau scored the game's two best tries, team efforts midway through each half which were both finished by Tim Nanai-Williams.

Auckland flanker Onasa'i Auva'a dived over in the left corner soon after the break to give his side breathing space while their chances were helped by perfect goal-kicking. Ash Moeke landed his four shots while his replacement Gareth Arlidge slotted three from three.

Waikato kept their Air New Zealand Cup semi-final hopes alive by belatedly engineering a precious 27-19 bonus point victory over lowly Northland in Hamilton.

Waikato kept a gallant Northland side scoreless in the second half - and crucially in the 55th minute when a key turnover orchestrated the match-turning try to Sosene Anesi. Dwayne Sweeney then secured a potentially crucial bonus point when he crossed in the last movement of the game to ice Waikato's recovery. Until the wing dived over untouched Northland were on the brink of giving Blues franchise partner Auckland a minor leg-up.

Northland deservedly lead 19-10 on the back of a smartly engineered try, staunch defence and Lachie Munro's flawless five-from-five goal kicking. Waikato opened the scoring through a eighth minute Stephen Donald penalty and produced the first try after Anesi timed his incision perfectly.

Northland immediately hit back, Jared Payne breaching the before ageless fly-half David Holwell handled twice to have wing Damien Fakafanua skirting over in the corner. Needing a rapid improvement as the conditions deteriorated, Aled de Malmanche proved the catalyst in the 45th minute, the hooker bursting through a ruck, swatting Luke Hamilton aside before carrying three defenders over the line.

In the vital play, Messam snaffled a turnover as Northland back tracked, feeding lock Toby Lynn who transferred to Jack Lam, the openside drawing the last defender so Anesi 70m run to the posts.

Southland kept the celebrations on ice at Invercargill after their failure to secure a bonus point in their 29-13 win over Taranaki leaves them with a tough job to qualify for the play-offs.

The win puts Southland temporarily up to second in the table but they face runaway leaders Canterbury in Christchurch next week but they were thwarted by the determined Taranaki defence who yielded just two tries. Southland now need to hold off Wellington, Hawke's Bay, Auckland and Waikato if they are to secure a semi final spot.

Taranaki who are destined to finish mid table, held Southland to 16-13 at half time despite the hosts' constant pressure. They defended manfully and despite being 10-0 down to a Joe Tuineau try set up brilliantly by Kendrick Lynn and the boot of Robbie Robinson, winger Shayne Austin crossed for an unexpected try for the visitors while Willie Ripia was on song with the boot.

But a fortuitous Lynn try midway through the second half made the difference for Southland as they went 26-13 in front, but try as they might they couldn't add any more tries and need a result in Christchurch to secure qualification.

Bay of Plenty held off a late Manuwatu fight back to clinch the points at Palmerstown North on Friday night. Manuwatu made much of the running, but they couldn't quite get in front of Bay of Plenty who led 13-3 after 22 minutes with Mike Delaney again reliable from the placed ball and blindside Luke Braid slipped a tackle to cross for a converted try.

But Manuwatu weren't lying down and they came back into the game through their forwards who were on top. Centre Tomasi Cama and flanker Nick Croswell made two strong runs that almost broke through before number 8 Brent Thompson 's charge from the base of the scrum allowed Reece Robinson to score and Isaac Thompson converted.

But Bay of Plenty struck after the break as inside centre Phil Burleigh chipped ahead, Manuwatu full-back Casey Stone fumbled and allowed Burleigh to re-gather and scamper home. Thompson replied with a try for Manuwatu but a ten minute spell allowed Bay of Plenty to go eleven points in front as Jason Hona scorched over for a try. A Thompson penalty and Sean O'Connor's converted try brought the score down to the minimum, but that was as close as Manuwatu could get as Bay of Plenty hung on.

Canterbury had to fight to beat Hawke's Bay 27-20 in their top of the table Air New Zealand Cup showdown in Napier despite the return of their All Blacks. It was a controversial victory, with Hawke's Bay denied a try to prop Faka'anaua Taumalolo after the final whistle had blown, with the match officials ruling that he had not scored despite television replays suggesting he had. Trailing 14-17 at halftime, the defending champions, fielding 10 current or past All Blacks, needed another "special" from fly-half Dan Carter.

Carter duly delivered by scoring all his side's points in the second-half with two penalties, a try and a conversion to give them the win. For Hawke's Bay, the bonus point they secured for losing by seven points or less kept alive their hopes of securing a home semi-final.

Canterbury opened with a slick try. From a lineout, and then a ruck, the ball was moved wide at express speed for winger James Paterson to beat a scrambling defence for Carter to convert. But Hawke's Bay, backed by a baying crowd of 17,000 that packed their Napier ground, regained their poise and put Canterbury on the back foot with their astute kicking game.

Fullback Israel Dagg, wing Zac Guildford and fly-half Matt Berquist took every opportunity to rocket bombs into Canterbury territory and began to turn the game around. They scored 17 unanswered points in the space of about 30 minutes as Berquist started their roll by popping over two penalties and a dropped goal. Then came a brilliant team try involving lock George Naoupu, skipper Jason Shoemark and No.8 Thomas Waldrom. Guildford was the beneficiary of the flowing move, squirting across in the corner for his 13th try of the season.

Berquist, who missed the conversion, had the crowd in raptures minutes later when he coolly slotted a monster 55m penalty. Carter then showed his class, gliding through a half gap to set up a try for Richie McCaw before the teams took the half-time breather with Hawke's Bay leading 17-14.

Canterbury regained the lead as Carter put over two early penalties. But Berquist tied the score again with another penalty. Then came Carter's solo try. Taking the ball inside the 22, he stepped inside and then showed his strength to carry two tacklers across as he dotted down.

Hawke's Bay's efforts almost paid off in the dying seconds as Waldrom took a quick tap penalty inside the Canterbury 22 and the ball was moved wide to Taumololo. It looked as if Taumololo had scored right by the left flag post but referee Chris Pollock did not award the try after being told by his assistant that a part of the prop's body had cut the line before he slammed the ball down with Andy Ellis hanging on for dear life.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Tasman's scant semi-final hopes were dashed at Carisbrook as fellow also-rans Otago muscled their way to a clinical 21-0 win. Tasman needed victory and ideally a four-try bonus point to keep their season mathematically alive, a scenario removed from the equation once Otago had banked all their points by half-time.

A week after losing 0-41 to Southland, Tasman were unable to recover in the 12th round match and were soundly beaten, particularly once drizzle swept the ground to hamper their enterprising gameplan. Tasman's task was made even harder when a refereeing blunder stymied their only genuine scoring opportunity, not that it influenced the outcome.

Wing Lucky Mulipola was quizzical when denied a try in the 29th minute when Jonathon White ruled he had been held -- momentarily at best -- by Aaron Bancroft before crossing in the corner. Trailing 0-14 at that point, Bancroft compounded Tasman's woes when he chased down former New Zealand Warrior Michael Witt's league-style grubber to the in goal on the cusp of half-time. While Tasman had a legitimate gripe with the Mulipola score, there was no denying Otago's almost total dominance at the breakdown and set piece while their defence was impregnable.

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