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Franchise Bases Bounce Back - Except Auckland

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Franchise Bases Bounce Back - Except Auckland

Wellington, Sept 27 NZPA - A more established pecking order returned to rugby's Air NZ Cup in round nine -- with one notable exception today in Nelson.

Until a woeful Auckland capitulated 12-8 to Tasman, it had been a perfect weekend for the five Super rugby franchise bases, striking back after two months often spent playing second fiddle to their provincial rivals.

Canterbury stretched their lead atop the standings to five points, albeit with a nervous Ranfurly Shield defence against Northland, while Wellington, Waikato and Otago turned around some ordinary form of late with wins.

That trio and Auckland are all nipping at the heels of the playoffs with four rounds to play and will send a shudder through the upstart teams ranked from second to fifth -- Southland, Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty and Tasman.

Of those sides, it is Hawke's Bay who have the most momentum, racking up a third straight win with their 35-30 defeat of Manawatu, who are now winless in five matches.

Three tries to winger Zac Guildford made the difference in a roller coaster fixture played in front of a healthy Napier crowd celebrating 125 years of Hawke's Bay rugby.

They improve one spot to third, between Southland and Bay of Plenty, who both suffered heavy defeats away from home.

Bay of Plenty led Otago 17-10 at halftime but the southerners suddenly discovered the starch that has been missing for much of their campaign, scoring 16 unanswered points in the second spell to prevail 26-17.

Otago are 10th but play their last three games at home so can't be ruled out.

Neighbours Southland suffered just their second loss of the season but it was a heavy one, 32-13 against a Wellington side who welcomed back some big guns.

Wellington snared a bonus point in a performance that suggests they could surge home on the back of a friendly draw to end their campaign.

Waikato pipped Taranaki 15-14 in New Plymouth, a crucial result for two teams who have struggled for consistency and to break free from a mid-table jam.

Taranaki looked to have clinched victory when first five-eighth Willie Ripia slotted a late dropped goal. However, his opposite Trent Renata responded with an even later droppie to keep the Mooloo campaign alive.

Also sealing the deal late were Canterbury in their 31-21 defeat of a gutsy Northland, who were on the brink of a famous Shield steal when the scores were locked 21-21 entering the final 15 minutes.

Winger Sean Maitland's second try made all the difference for the defending champions, who will begin to welcome back their legion of All Blacks in coming weeks.

There weren't a lot of positives for Auckland, who suffered a second straight limp loss.

Their conquerors were a Tasman side boasting arguably the form forward pack of the competition and who remain firmly in the hunt to qualify for the semifinals.

One side who can kiss goodbye to the playoffs are last-placed Counties-Manukau, who went down 28-19 to 14-man North Harbour in a bottom-of-the-table grind at Albany.

The hosts lost second five-eighth Andrew Mailei to the competition's first red card of 2009, for a spear tackle just 22min into the game, but battled on to claim their third win.


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