Another week of top-class provincial rugby occurred in New Zealand, with Week Four Mitre 10 Cup in action.

It also saw a test match played for The Rugby Championship–New Zealand v Argentina. This was gladly welcomed by Last Word On Sport, as our New Zealand Rugby accredited writer Mike Pulman was on-hand to report on the match in Hamilton.

Week Four Mitre 10 Cup

Results: Wednesday September 7 – Hawke’s Bay 24 Auckland 25 | Thursday September 8 – Taranaki 30 Southland 14 | Friday September 9 – Bay of Plenty 52 Northland 25 | Counties-Manukau 27 Wellington 28 | Saturday September 10 – North Harbour 29 Manawatu 25 | Otago 30 Tasman 27 | Sunday September 11 – Canterbury 63 Hawke’s Bay 7 | Auckland 32 Waikato 35

Eight matches were played this week, and two sides would play twice within the period of five days. Auckland and Hawke’s Bay are established members of provincial rugby folklore. Both with titles to their names, this season they are experiencing vastly different results.

Auckland had played three, lost one. That loss was to Canterbury, who are leading the competition. Hawke’s Bay on the other hand were yet to gain a victory in 2016. In such a tight competition, every side needed to capture every point available.

Auckland found themselves in a real fight at McLean Park. Scrapping in with a late try, the Bay could have won it with a penalty kick. Blues first-five Ihaia West missing a last-gasp kick, it proved the sides were ‘not as far apart’ as others imagined.

2016 Emblem
Mitre 10 Cup logo on an Auckland jersey during the round four Mitre 10 Cup match between Hawke’s Bay and Auckland at McLean Park on September 7, 2016 in Napier, New Zealand. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Even nature of Mitre 10 Cup

In fact many of the matches this week finished with sides within seven points of the other. That even nature meant five games were very close contests–the other three were a tryfest. Canterbury especially, making Hawke’s Bay feel even worse as they again lost.

By Sunday, after seven fine matches, the game of the round took place in Auckland. A traditional old ‘belter’ of a match, Waikato traveled up the motorway and stole a win off the big neighbour.

Boosted by All Blacks squad members Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Damian McKenzie, they inspired early points until a yellow card saw the home side rebound to finish the half 15-15. In a game of tit-for-tat, Waikato scored two tries, only for Auckland to reply in kind. Blake Gibson continued to show his promise at tighthead flanker.

Waikato steal victory over Auckland

The result could have gone Auckland’s way, but a defensive effort saw the Hamilton-side win 32-35. It also pushes Waikato’s up to third in the Premiership. Close behind their neighbours; who have played one extra game, they have also collected valuable bonus points.

Standings: Premiership – Canterbury 20 | Auckland 16 (5) | Waikato 15 | Taranaki 14 | Counties 12 | Tasman 9 | H. Bay 3 (5)

Championship – Otago 24 (5) | Wellington 13 | Manawatu 11 | Harbour 9 | Bay of Plenty 9 | Northland 4 (5) | Southland 2.

MVP – Jackson Garden-Bachop

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” was the call, as a final minute penalty kick saw Wellington hold out Counties-Manukau in Pukekohe. The young first-five is a promising figure, son of former All Blacks Stephen Bachop. His composure to slot the important kick showed he is one to watch.

The result too was worthy of mention, as these two sides contested the Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy. He played for both the Steelers [Counties] and the Lions [Wellington] and his status as a cultural icon in both regions is unquestioned. The memory of Lomu hangs over Pukekohe, but the Wellington will treasure the memory, and inspiration that is Jonah Lomu.

Investec Rugby Championship

Argentina could not quite take the famed prized scalp of the All Blacks. The only Tier One nation that the South Americans are yet to beat–beside Zimbabwe–and after a great start, Los Pumas seemed on track.

See Mike Pulman’s full match report below, as New Zealand overcame the spirited Argentinian side.

NEW  ZEALAND  57  ARGENTINA  22

All Blacks Demolish Spirited Pumas

That win gives New Zealand a perfect start in the Championship. Argentina gave them a real test, and across in Brisbane, Australia finally got a win in 2016. They would be very pleased with that, although a fiesty Pumas team could travel over the Tasman and upset them in Perth next week.

I am fortunate to be covering next weekends All Blacks test in Christchurch. The South African side have now lost two in a row, so a wounded Springbok is unpredictable. Caution might rule Steve Hansen’s sides preparation. They cannot make any mistakes, if they look to take a fourth victory–very much sealing The Rugby Championship.

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With Week Four Mitre 10 Cup action completed, the sides are displaying their credentials. Still just one third into the season, each team will need to prepare for the mandatory double-match round. Auckland only managed one win out of two, showing how difficult that task is. It might be the making, or breaking of a teams season.

Be sure to follow the NZ Rugby Grandstand, as we review the action from the Mitre 10 Cup, Investec Rugby Championship and other domestic rugby competitions.

“Main photo credit”

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