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NPC : Northland and Southland survive for another year
Huw Turner
October 13, 2002

Bay of Plenty will have to play off in three weeks time to ensure their first division survival for 2003 after Northland overcame Southland 27-20 in Invercargill on Sunday afternoon, the home side guaranteeing their status with a last minute, bonus point try from Jimmy Cowan.

This was a game Northland deserved to win, their forwards exercising sufficient control at crucial moments to set up the platform for their devastating Fijian wingers. In recent seasons , Northland have had some success because of the strength of their scrum. This season , Con Barrell returned home after some years in Canterbury, but his arrival confused coach Bryce Woodward, the old front row of firm of Knight , Witcombe and Storey not reunited until round eight. This afternoon they exerted huge pressure on the Southland scrum , and with Taylor , Maimuri and Waaka also playing their best games of the season, ball retention and continuity did not appear the problem it had been throughout muh of the campaign.

Caucau on the left, and Fero on the right , scored three tries in the opening half hour to open up a handy lead and inject some confidence into the side going forward. Centre Jason Hita also had a wonderful game, another to suggest he should have seen much more game time in 2002.

Southland always competed well up front, indeed they probably had the better of the lineouts, but once the ball got beyond their no10 they struggled to make headway. Opensider Ben Herring again impressed with the urgency of his play and the quality of his support. It would be no great surprise to see him get a Super 12 contract with the Highlanders for 2003.

Northland made a powerful start, Caucau scoring as early as the 6th minute, running down the left from inside his own half to confirm that the widemen would be a danger. His second, and Fero's five-pointer , the latter converted by Taylor who then also added a penalty, opened up decisive 20-3 gap. Barron had replied with a 15th minute penalty to give home supporters some hope of their side keeping in touch. Relentless pressure on the Northland line in the minutes before half time led to hooker Hall scoring a morale-boosting try , the half time score 20-8 in Northland's favour.

The second half was a tense and exciting affair. Northland went in search of the knock out punch and appeared to have delivered it after 58minutes when flanker Dale charged a Cowan kick down, re-gathered carefully and sprinted 15 metres to give his side the bonus point. 10 minutes later powerful no8 Paul Miller , who had had a generally quiet game at the back of a beaten pack, forced his way over and underneath the despairing defence. But by this stage the game was well under the control of the Northlanders, fly half Hayden Taylor missing two golden penalty opportunities to finish the home side off. They came charging back in the final five minutes in pursuit of another converted try to take them within 7 points and that precious bonus point.Wave after wave foundered on the rocks of the Northland defence until scrum half Jimmy Cowan, a wholehearted tryer all afternoon , squeezed himself over and the ball down just to the left of the posts. With the final play of the round robin phase of the season, Bai converted to send Southland supporters into ecstasy and Bay of Plenty followers into despair. They will now play off in two weeks time against the second division champions. Northland had escaped by the skin of their teeth , a disappointing season brought to a finish on the back of some encouraging team and individual form.

Scorers :

Southland : 20 : Tries : Hall, Miller, Cowan Conversion : Bai Penalty : Barron

Northland : 27 : Tries : Caucau ( 2 ), Fero, Dale Conversions : Taylor ( 2 ) Penalty : Taylor.

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