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Day of NPC upsets sees competition favourites downed by winless Taranaki

By Sam Smith
Pita Gus Sowakula. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Saturday’s triple-header of NPC action has seen a trio of unfancied sides take home the spoils in three fascinating games across New Zealand.

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Canterbury, Wellington and Tasman – all heavyweights of the NZ provincial scene – went into their matches with Taranaki, Northland and North Harbour as short favourites to claim victory but it was the opposite scenario that unfolded.

In the opening game of the day, Canterbury travelled north to Pukekura Park to take on the Bulls in dismal conditions that certainly weren’t conducive to running rugby.

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The unbeaten Cantabrians – who are short-odds to take out the competition this year – were naturally looking to add a third scalp to tally this season after thumping Manawatu 62-15 and comfortably accounting for Wellington 43-10 in the opening two rounds of the competition. The home team, on the other hand, entered the match with nothing to show for their season to date but for one losing bonus point earned against Northland last weekend.

It was Taranaki who raced out of the blocks, however, with uncapped All Blacks playmaker Stephen Perofeta putting on a fine showing in his first game since the Super Rugby Pacific final two months ago to lead his side out to a 16-0 advantage going into the final quarter of the match.

Canterbury were able to score twice through George Bridge and George Bell to give themselves a shot at victory with time almost up on the close but had simply given themselves too much to do with little room for error in dire weather and ultimately came up short, falling to a 16-12 defeat.

Just a few hours south, Taranaki’s neighbours didn’t have quite so much luck against a dogged Northland side in Wellington.

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In similarly atrocious conditions the Lions and Taniwha exchanged penalties early in the piece before the visiting Northlanders were able to score two tries at the end of the first half to give themselves a 15-6 lead at the break.

While there was plenty of endeavour from both teams in the second spell despite the trying conditions, neither side was able to add to their halftime tally and Northland claimed their second win of the season – and in the process, matching their tally from 2021.

Wellington now sit on one win from three games after narrowly missing out on last year’s Premiership semi-finals.

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In the final game of the day, North Harbour played host to last year’s beaten finalists, the Tasman Mako.

Given the dangerous talent at the Mako’s disposal – including Timoci Tavantavanawai, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Sevu Reece (in the unfamiliar role of fullback) – it’s perhaps no surprise that they outscored the home side four tries to two. Tasman couldn’t maintain their discipline throughout the contest, however, and Harbour first five Bryn Gatland was in inspirational form off the tee to convert nine attempts on goal into points and accumulate 25 points. Come the final whistle, it was the home side who held the lead, triumphing 35-27.

Saturday’s results once again reinforced that anyone can beat anyone on their day and while Waikato and Auckland may be topping their respective conferences at present, you can be cruising along in pole position one week and suddenly find yourself heading home with your tale between your legs the next.

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