Auckland left it until the last gasp to deny a gallant Bay of Plenty side in Tauranga, while Wellington had to battle before getting on top of Manawatū in Palmerston North.
In Napier, North Harbour gave Hawke's Bay a hurry-up, while Waikato had to contain Southland's comeback in the rain in Invercargill.
In Nelson, midfielder David Havili and flanker Anton Sentner combined from a lineout to allow wing Macca Springer to make up for a dropped pass with the goal line open to give Tasman a 7-3 lead at halftime. Then, replacement back Alex Nankivell charged onto a pass after Otago lost the ball at a lineout and raced into space. Centre Levi Aumua got pulled short of the line, but Nankivell drove over for the try.
However, there was a flaw in the Tasman restart technique and wing Jona Nareki punished them to set up a try for Otago lock Will Tucker. But an accurate kick into the box by replacement halfback Noah Hotham saw Springer, who was given plenty of opportunities to put his speed to use, run through to lick the defence, get the bounce and score his second. But failing to catch a possible intercept pass saw Springer give Otago second five-eighths Jake Te Hiwi a chance to score Otago's second.
Tasman 27 (Macca Springer 2, Alex Nankivell tries; Taine Robinson 3 con, 2 pen) Otago 15 (Will Tucker, Jake Te Hiwi tries; Sam Gilbert con, pen). HT: 7-3
Lineout power saw prop Kauvaka Kaivelata open the try-scoring from the drive, but Taranaki's response was immediate with second five-eighths Teihorangi Walden crossing. That was followed by the home scrum doing the business for No8 Kaylum Boshier to go over under the bar for his first try. But lovely footwork, unleashed at speed, saw fullback Etene Nanai-Seturo cross for Counties Manukau.
Wing Kini Naholo launched a superb dive at the corner to cross early in the second half, while a tap penalty play provided another try for Boshier under the posts. When Jayson Potroz performed a wide-running double round, he gave wing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens the space he needed to score. Counties Manukau kept in the hunt when replacement forward Alex McRobie crossed after a series of drives. However, the home team kept moving the ball and wing Vereniki Tikoisolomone crossed to ensure the win was safe, although the final word was with the visitors, who saw lock Jimmy Tupou score the final try.
Taranaki 37 (Tei Walden, Kaylum Boshier 2, Kini Naholo, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Vereniki Tikoisolomone tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 con, pen) Counties Manukau 29 (Kauvaka Kaivelata, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Alex McRobie, Jimmy Tupou tries; Riley Hohepa 3 con, pen). HT: 15-12
Making an untidy start Hawke's Bay conceded a first-minute try when clearing the ball from an attempted North Harbour counter ruck, and when the ball went to the ground wing, Alapati Leiua was on hand to score. However, good play by No8 Devon Flanders and good handling by wing Lolagi Visinia got Hawke's Bay into a good position with first five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie's feint before passing to fullback Harry Godfrey who put second five-eighths Chase Tiatia into space to reply.
North Harbour claimed from a sloppy lineout and built drives around fullback Kade Banks, No8 Cameron Suafoa and replacement Lotu Inisi before flanker Jed Melvin and hooker Shilo Klein created momentum for the ball to move to Leiua to score again. But just before halftime Fakatava's quick tap caught Harbour napping, and made 35m before being caught short of the line. But prop, Pouri Rakete-Stones, arrived to pick up the ball and drive over. McClutchie and North Harbour's first five-eighths Oscar Koller then had a private duel throughout the second half, with McClutchie's 74th penalty goal enough to seal the win.
Hawke's Bay 23 (Chase Tiatia, Pouri Rakete-Stones tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2 con, 3 pen) North Harbour 21 (Alapati Leiua 2 tries; Oscar Koller con, 3 pen). HT: 14-15
Thumping ball-in-hand runs by Wellington's second five-eighths Peter Umaga-Jensen, centre Billy Proctor and flankers DuPlessis Kirifi and Brad Shields gave them 65 per cent first-half possession. Still, it was Manawatū who went to the break leading 6-3 in Palmerston North, courtesy of two penalty goals to first five-eighths Brett Cameron.
It took the defending champions and Ranfurly Shield holders 68 minutes to get the scoring edge, following powerful breaks by Kirifi, Shields and Umaga-Jensen, for the latter to get a short pass into a rare Manawatū defensive gap to run in what was the only try of the game. The last stages of the game were marred by a dangerous charge on Wellington fullback Ruben Love by replacement Josh Taula who was red-carded. The game was completed with two more penalty goals landed by Wellington's first five-eighths Aidan Morgan who finished with 17 points.
Manawatū 6 (Brett Cameron 2 pen) Wellington 22 (Peter Umaga-Jensen try; Aidan Morgan con, 5 pen). HT: 3-6
Two Northland sin-binnings in the final 25 minutes proved costly in an 11-43 loss in Whangārei. The home team was competitive until that stage. They scored first after Northland's forwards camped on the Canterbury line to see wing Brady Rush cross in the corner when the ball was released to the backs. Fed into a gap, under penalty advantage, lock Tahlor Cahill chewed up the metres to get Canterbury's first try. Only ahead 13-5 at the break, Canterbury stayed in front through first five-eighths Fergus Burke's goal-kicking boot, as he scored 18 points, but his opposite Rivez Reihana kept Northland in touch through his scoring.
But it was the 58th-minute sin-binning of Rush that Canterbury made its move, with replacement wing Blair Murray scoring almost immediately off fullback Chay Fihaki's long pass. Then failing in an intercept attempt Rene Ranger joined Rush in the bin, and Canterbury scored through replacement hooker Ben Funnell from a lineout drive. Four minutes later, on the end of the backline, Murray chipped ahead to space and won the race to score his second. The game's final act saw Fihaki secure an intercept to be unchallenged in scoring.
Northland 11 (Brady Rush try; Rivez Reihana 2 pen) Canterbury 43 (Blair Murray 2, Tahlor Cahill, Ben Funnell, Chay Fihaki tries; Fergus Burke 3 con, 4 pen). HT: 13-5
With 30 minutes left in Tauranga, a mistake-ridden Auckland were looking down the barrel, at 3-24 behind. Speed on the break from Bay of Plenty hit Auckland hard as All Black Sevens speedster Leroy Carter picked up two tries while the first, to lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit, saw him pick the ball from a ruck and stroll to the easiest of tries.
But the switch was pressed, and two in five minutes, wing Salesi Rayasi and fullback Corey Evans got them back in the game. Then with 15 minutes left, Caleb Tangitau got them within five points. Penalties were exchanged. With three minutes left, Auckland secured a penalty, while Bay of Plenty had replacement prop Alex Johnston sent to the bin. Auckland kicked to touch and mounted a rolling maul against the weakened Bay of Plenty pack for hooker Soane Vikena to cross. First five-eighths Zarn Sullivan stepped and landed the winning conversion from wide out.
Bay of Plenty 30 (Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Leroy Carter 2 tries; Lucas Cashmore 3 con, 2 pen; Wharenui Hawera pen) Auckland 32 (Salesi Rayasi, Corey Evans, Caleb Tangitau, Soane Vikena tries; Zarn Sullivan 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 3-17
Up 26-11 at halftime in Invercargill, Waikato could score only three points in the second half and in injury time to quell a determined Southland who got to 21 points with 24 minutes remaining. Earlier, Waikato's pack hit Southland hard with blindside flanker Malachi Wrampling-Alec and hooker Pita Anae Ah-Sue punishing defensive lapses to score tries within six minutes. Halfback Cortez Ratima then added tries in the 20th and 30th minutes.
Southland finally got reward as their pack pounded the Waikato line in several thrusts before the ball was moved to wing Michael Manson to score. Five minutes after the break, Southland used their lineout maul before releasing it through the backline for wing Viliami Fine to go over beneath the posts. However, Southland couldn't maintain try-scoring pressure. While first five-eighths Greg Dyer got them within five points with a penalty goal, the injury-time goal for replacement Taha Kemara was enough for Waikato to leave Southland without a bonus point.
Southland 21 Michael Manson, Viliami Fine tries; Greg Dyer con, 3 pen) Waikato 29 (Malachi Wrampling-Alec, Pita Anae Ah-Sue, Cortez Ratima 2 tries; Josh Ioane 3 con; Taha Kemara pen). HT: 11-26