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Provincial Pair Leave Big Rivals Grasping

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Fuseworks Media
Provincial Pair Leave Big Rivals Grasping

Wellington, Sept 19 NZPA - Taranaki and Southland remain surprise pacesetters after a wild and woolly weekend of national provincial championship rugby.

Most eighth round games were affected by strong winds, wet and sometimes white conditions courtesy of the storm sweeping the country but it couldn't halt the dizzying climb of two unions usually better renowned for grafting, mid-table campaigns.

Southland are first on 30 points and Taranaki third on 27, mingling in an otherwise power-packed top five that includes second-placed Auckland, defending champions Canterbury in fourth and Wellington fifth.

There's a small gap back to a clump of four teams mid-table -- Waikato, Northland, Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau.

Bay of Plenty's late 24-21 defeat of Counties Manukau at Mt Maunganui today could yet prove crucial to both teams as they chase top-seven, if not top-four, placings.

Canterbury plummeted three spots courtesy of their 31-20 loss to a fired-up Taranaki, capping the union's 125th anniversary celebrations in New Plymouth.

The hosts scored five tries to two, with flanker Jarrad Hoeata and replacement first five-eighth Beauden Barrett crossing late to push them clear after Canterbury claimed the lead with a healthy wind behind them 20 minutes from time.

Taranaki captain Craig Clarke said the jubilee celebrations were inspiring for his team.

"All the Taranaki rugby community, we did it for them and all the history," he told Sky Sport.

"We also did it for this Taranaki 2010 team, just to add to the history in the province."

Canterbury counterpart George Whitelock regretted his side's inability to control loose ball from Taranaki kicks through. He didn't mention high-profile second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams by name but the former rugby league star was guilty of failing to secure possession which led to tries to Taranaki backs George Pisi and Beauden Barrett.

"They really took their opportunities. We struggled to go down on the ball when going backwards and they got a couple of tries," Whitelock said.

"At the end of the day, that was the difference. We've got to work on that."

Williams was again dynamic on the offload and finished a brilliant Canterbury team try but other aspects of his game, such as defence, are still in need of honing.

Canterbury host Wellington next week, the regular finalists of recent seasons both needing to discover their best form five weeks out from the playoffs.

Wellington were again scratchy in downing Hawke's Bay 17-13 at home yesterday, relying largely on the brilliance of winger Hosea Gear as their outside backs created three tries in 12 decisive minutes late in the first half.

Restored leaders Southland opened the round with a victory which underlined their defensive prowess, toppling Waikato 7-6 in Hamilton.

They crossed early through form centre Kenny Lynn before tackling their hearts out against the hosts, who could only register through two Trent Renata penalties.

Lynn underwent groin surgery on Friday and will miss the rest of the season, including this Thursday's mouth-watering Ranfurly Shield challenge from Auckland.

The Aucklanders struggled for much of their 32-6 defeat of last-placed Manawatu in Palmerston North, before piling on three late tries in dreadful conditions.

Just above Manawatu are Otago, whose two-game winning run was snapped in a 13-8 loss to Northland in Dunedin today. A late try from Northland captain Jared Payne ended 31 winless years at Carisbrook for his province.

Another northern side to prosper were North Harbour, who crossed twice late against Tasman in Nelson to win 28-21 and climb two places to 10th.

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