In the Premiership, Auckland continued their growing momentum, defending champions Canterbury were freighting against Hawke’s Bay and Wellington succumbed again, this time to Bay of Plenty.
In the championship, Manawatū is the only unbeaten province but Northland is chasing hard, and Otago are back on track after a setback last weekend.
Auckland: 37 (Angelica Vahai 3, Nijiho Nagata, Melanie Puckett, Katelyn Vaha’akolo, Braxton Sorensen-McGee tries; Ruahei Demant con) Counties Manukau: 10 (Jaymie Kolose, Mererangi Paul tries) HT: 22-0
Auckland won their third consecutive match with a mostly convincing victory in Pukekohe against Counties.
The visitors were ahead with four tries by halftime. Black Ferns Liana Mikaele Tu'u and Sylvia Brunt were especially powerful as the illusive outside backs found plenty of space.
Bustling hooker Nijiho Nagata (a Japanese international) scored a try with a show of muscle and halfback Melanie Puckett, who cleared quickly and accurately, was rewarded when she ran.
Wings Angelica Vahai and Katelyn Vaha’akolo continued their confident form with Ruahei Demant at the heart of the Storm’s creativity.
Counties mounted a spirited rally in the second half. No.8 Joanna Fanene and openside Stacey Brown were industrious and abrasive. When the ball found Heat wingers Jaymie Kolose and Mererangi Paul they were as equally effective as their opposing pair.
With 15 minutes remaining, it was 22-10. Counties ill-discipline saw Auckland regain control and flourishing finish. Vahai proved even more elusive than she was in the first half. She has run more metres (587) than any player in the FPC.
The match was notable for the return of Black Ferns winger Ruby Tui. It was her first appearance since the 2022 World Cup final. Tui tackled strongly and sought work but was tightly marked. Tui said afterward.
“Counties have always opened the door when me and a couple of others have knocked. I’m really proud to be a part of this union. To be fair, Auckland put on an awesome performance. We needed to, but they needed to as well, so it was an important game for both of us and props to Auckland.”
Bay of Plenty: 37 (Payton Takimoana, Kanyon Paul, Kate Henwood, Te Urupounamu McGarvey, Tania-Rose Raharuhi tries; Renee Woodman-Wickliffe 2 con, pen, Sapphire Williams con, pen) Wellington: 7 (Justine McGregor try, Tarama Ruaporo con) HT: 18-7
Bay of Plenty achieved its largest victory over Wellington and possibly avoided regulation to the championship with it.
The hosts forwards paved the way to success with an imperious scrum, huge carries from props Kate Henwood and Te Urupounamu McGarvey and a more effective loose-forward trio of Natalie Delamere, Kendra Reynolds, and Moe Nagaoka.
Black Ferns Reynolds and Luka Connor celebrated their 50th matches for the Volcanix.
Bay of Plenty started with intent and polish with Payton Takimoana scoring a try in the first two minutes.
Wellington winger Justine McGregor scored another cracker, breaking a tackle from a dummy cut in midfield and blazing 40 metres.
However, aside from Monica Tagoai, McGregor was the only Pride player who looked likely to break the line as chances for both evaporated with a lack of possession. Lock Jackie Patea-Fereti is the top tackler in the FPC with 60.
Bay of Plenty didn’t concede a single penalty in the first half. Renee Woodman-Wickliffe was lively at fullback and stepped up to the goal-kicking duties following an injury to Sapphire Williams.
Wellington slumped to 0-5 and will almost certainly be relegated to the Championship for the first time since 2017.
Northland: 67 (Pohutukawa Kakara, Kerri Johnson 3, Krystal Murray 2, Charmaine Smith, Ocean Tierney, Lara Cooper, Ruihana Clarke, Serai Murray-Wihongi tries; Murray 4 con, Tyler Nankivell 2 con) Taranaki: 0. HT: 33-0
Northland produced a dazzling display in the first FPC match in Kaikohe.
The Kauri ability to offload in contact coupled with a seamlessness connection between forwards and backs was the highlight of a commanding performance.
Krystal Murray scored twice and had a hand in another three tries with her powerful bursts and superb passing for a tight forward.
Lock Charmaine Smith did her best Peter Jones impersonation with a herculean 60m burst down the grandstand sideline while the bench carried on the momentum with Tyler Nankivell a standout.
Black Ferns halfback Iritana Hohaia returned from her suspension and used what little ball she had effectively. Captain Elle Johns tackled with heart as usual.
Northland fell ten points short of their highest score against Taranaki which is 77 in 2021.
Otago: 37 (Leah Miles, Tegan Hollows, Jamie Church, Sheree Hume, Charlotte Va’afusuaga, Cheyenne Cunningham tries; Georgia Cormick pen, con, Hume con) North Harbour: 12 (Grace Freeman 2 tries, con) HT: 13-5
Otago finally put a stubborn North Harbour away in the 74th minute when Charlotte Va’afusuaga bustled over for a try. Va’afusuaga grew more demanding throughout.
North Harbour enjoyed at least an equal share of possession but lacked the speed and punch of the Otago backs.
North Harbour first-five Grace Freeman is maturing with every outing, fullback Sam Curtis was stoic, and young blindside Maddison Mataafa had a forceful presence.
The Otago lineout was efficient, the rolling maul made headway and their tactical kicking was more precise. Openside Leah Miles and winger Jamie Church were electric at times. Centre Cunningham has scored at least a try in eight of her past ten matches.
Canterbury: 84 (Grace Steinmetz 3, Lucy Jenkins 2, Martha Mataele 2, Georgia Ponsonby, Pip Love, Karla Wright-Akeli, Kelsyn McCook, Rosie Kelly, Grace Brooker tries; Kelly 5 con, pen, Hannah King 3 con) Hawke’s Bay: 14 (Nicolette Adamson, Michaela Baker tries; Krysten Cottrell 2 con) HT: 32-0
Canterbury posted the biggest score of the season with a machine-like demolition of Hawke's Bay. The visitors ran 1039 metres and beat 53 defenders.
Boasting the World Cup-winning front row of Pip Love, Georgia Ponsonby, and Amy Rule it was always going to be a tall order for Hawke's Bay who weren't totally absent of bright moments.
Both of their tries were long-range efforts, Nicolette Adamson snatched an intercept from past halfway and Michaela Baker scored following a 30m bust by Leilani Hakiwai. Blindside Gemma Woods celebrated her 70th match for the Tui with a determined effort. She has been a first-class player since 2006.
Black Ferns winger Grace Steinmetz scored her first Canterbury hat trick. Martha Mataele has scored at least one try in 11 of her past 12 games.
Canterbury’s highest score in FPC history is 92 against Taranaki in 2013. Hawke's Bay conceded 93 against Auckland in 2014.
Manawatū: 46 (Paige Lush 2, Ruci Malanicagi 2, Selica Winiata, Marilyn Fanoga, Corrineke Windle tries; Winiata 4 con, pen) Tasman: 14 (Fiaali’i Solomona 2 tries; Cassie Siataga 2 con) HT: 29-14.
In slippery conditions in Palmerston North the hosts held Tasman scoreless in the second spell of a resounding victory.
Tasman unsettled Manawatū with two tries in the opening quarter, both to strapping winger Fiaali’i Solomona. Hooker Percious Auimatagi made some explosive carries and openside Sui Pauaraisa was consistently good.
Manawatū had another level though with Black Ferns No.8 Kaipo Olsen Baker having a barnstorming game beside tireless flanker Rhiarna Ferris, lock Kahurangi Sturmey, and prop Marilyn Fanoga (nee Live).
Ruci Malanicagi was a major threat on the wing and the timeless Selica Winiata scored 16 points and impressed with her silky skills. Next Saturday the captain plays her 100th game against Otago in Dunedin.