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The Air NZ Cup NPC Week Four

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Scott Newman
Scott Newman

Last week featured the best rugby of the round. The best games being on Saturday night with a spirited Shield match between Auckland & Wellington. Then to see the All Blacks win the Bledisloe Cup, tipping over the Aussies in their backyard.  There are some good match ups this weekend with the feature match being Canterbury’s turn to prise the log o’ wood from the Lions. The returning All Blacks are sure to make a difference.
Manawatu vs. Otago – Manawatu won 19 - 12
The Turbos are building nicely this season as they are playing attacking rugby. The style they are producing will trouble any side that cannot produce tries at will. They still have issues on defence but they are certainly taking their chances. They will keep this pressure on early as the future in the first division is dependent on this fine start.  Aaron Cruden is controlling the backline very well. The Turbos face the stumbling ‘naki next.
Otago is struggling to string together consistency for the whole 80mins. They look like they are in complete control and the next they are scrambling on their heels? The team is solid enough to compete with everyone to a high level in the competition. Otago face Northland next which is a great opportunity to get back on track.
Player of the game – Casey Stone (Manawatu) Finishing well this season from good backline support.
North Harbour vs. Northland – Northland won 26 - 23
North Harbour is playing a good defensive style of Rugby. Playing for territory and looking to pounce on mistakes. The tries are not flowing freely 3 from 4 games. When/if everything is balanced and pieced together they will trouble teams more. Teams have exposed Harbours game at present and are scoring closely until all momentum subsides. Southland is up next, ouch?
Northland is playing with confidence in spreading the ball quickly to the wings where the strength is. (Ranger & Payne) They are sometimes slow organising themselves in transitional/counter plays but are generally ball hungry eager to run and play around Lachie Munro’s fine boot. Otago come to town next and will be a target.
Player of the game – Brook Gilmore (Northland) Found a way to break the deadlock from one opportunity.
Southland vs. Hawke’s Bay – Southland won 18 - 9
The Stags are one of the form teams of the competition by playing a balanced game. Sure, some good luck has gone their way some of the time. They are making good progress in the standings & should be able to stay there. The whole team are playing well together as a unit. They will be looking for their first win at Harbour tomorrow.
The Magpies started the season very well by dominating Auckland but have not been able to perform at that peak since. They have the young players/experienced veterans and a steady boot in Matt Berquist. I’m sure they will be getting their attacking lines together soon. As they are too good to be kept out for long periods. Facing Tasman will be a daunting task as they are very alike. On the day can be magical or ordinary.
Player of the game – Matthew Berquist (Hawke’s Bay) Lost the game but showed good skills to keep the Magpies close.
Bay of Plenty vs. Waikato – Bay of Plenty won 32 - 16
Bay of Plenty is the team to beat this season. Starting with 4 out of 4 wins is just what the coach wanted. Beating your super franchise with a hiding of a score line, priceless. Playing a normal game without overly making mistakes or poor option taking. The Bay are putting their hand up with Mike Delany wanting more game time in Super rugby he’s going about it the right way. Auckland is next and will play for the first John Drake boot. (At Eden Park)
Waikato have found themselves at the bottom of the table where there are several teams dwelling. Depriving this team of the All Blacks has left a mixed bag of all sorts. Sure, they have the backs to get the job done ... I think the trouble lays in poor defense and the forwards not pressing for the hard yards for dominance of the ball. Counties are next, expect run and gun carnage with All Blacks to boot!
Player of the game – Mike Delany (Bay of Plenty) The form first-five of the competition.
Canterbury vs. Tasman – Canterbury won 25 – 21

Canterbury is still firm favourites to win this competition but you have to wonder that the courage of no-name teams can really press them. Tasman gave them a very good go with relentless pressure of running the ball right to the very end. They welcomed back Corey Flynn & Andrew Ellis who both made impacts in getting the job done. The Red & Black play for the shield and have a great chance in nabbing it.
The Tasman side continue to impress by playing a simple no frills game which is working for them nicely by keeping with all the teams so far. They look good with the ball in hand. They don’t seem to have trouble scoring. They were very close with Canterbury and now face Hawke’s Bay who will be a worthy opponent. They will be up for the task.
Player of the game – Stephen Brett (Canterbury) Relieved to get minutes and showed his skill set in the game at first-five.
Wellington vs. Auckland (Ranfurly Shield Match) – Wellington won 16 - 15

The Lions can store the shield for another week after the first real challenge for the log o’ wood. Most people were picking Wellington to dominate the shaky Aucklanders but when the Shield is on the line all form goes out the window. Heck of a game with some interesting decisions at the end of the game. Wellington is inconsistent (as usual) but they take their moments when they come along. Canterbury is next ... they will basically have to win the shield back off them in their minds.
Auckland showed a lot of heart in battling for the shield. Turned some heads in the fact that they are playing better rugby now. Having the All Blacks come back will boost Auckland better than any other team (almost) Just in time as the Bay are the top of the table and are doing it with relative ease.
Player of the game – Hosea Gear (Wellington) A threat all night long. Will be in the running for the end of year tour.
Counties Manukau vs. Taranaki – Counties Manukau won 33 - 21

Counties had the best game of the season to earn the first win. They maintained pressure on Taranaki all game Tim Nanai-Williams was perfect with the boot all of the attacking moves came off well. Defense is still a really big issue. Sticking to their strengths of spreading the ball and counter attacking will be in their favour. Waikato come to town next and will be looking at putting a big one in. The Steelers will need to play that same game again.
Taranaki have been looking a little lost in play with recent games. There is good strike power at the back but not enough go forward to have any use in providing a steady platform for the whole game. They need to figure out what is going wrong quick. Hopefully Andrew Hore & Jason Eaton will be available as they are the kind of players to turn things around. Manawatu are next and this will be a good game as both will play to attack from the forwards into the backline fast.
Player of the game – Tim Nanai-Williams (Counties Manukau) Keep that accuracy going and good things will start to happen.
This Week:
North Harbour vs. Southland
Northland vs. Otago
Hawke’s Bay vs. Tasman
Counties Manukau vs. Waikato
Manawatu vs. Taranaki
Wellington vs. Canterbury (Ranfurly Shield)
Auckland vs. Bay of Plenty


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