Northland strike late to topple Waikato
Northland upset national rugby premiership heavyweights Waikato 29-27 with a converted try three minutes from the end at Waikato Stadium tonight.
Flanker Dan Prior scored the winning try on the end of a lineout drive after the visitors had been awarded a penalty and opted to kick to the corner.
First-five Ash Moeke kicked the sideline conversion to put Northland ahead and snatch victory away from the more favoured Waikato side that have only lost to the Taniwha one other time since 1999.
Waikato led 17-14 at halftime, but were never comfortable, with the lead changing several times.
Waikato played into the north-easterly breeze in the first spell and despite blindside flanker Matt Vant Leven scoring the first try, after seven frenzied minutes of play from both teams, the visitors proved a real handful.
Samoan sevens star Faatoina Autagavaia was quick to make his impact on the match - with his pace and dazzling footwork - and just two minutes after Vant Leven scored, the Northland fullback was over in the corner for his own five-pointer, after another end-to-end sequence of action.
Initially, Waikato broke out of their half through second-five Jackson Willison, then Declan O'Donnell carried it on and an infield kick was snapped up by centre Save Tokula. But when the attacking movement broke down, the ball was snapped up by Northland, who immediately launched a stunning counterattack and with Willison down injured, from an earlier tackle, they had the numbers advantage to score.
That put Northland ahead 8-7 and first-five Ash Moeke stepped up to increase that lead to 11-7 with a penalty goal soon after. It was not until the 26th minute that Waikato regained the advantage.
Hooker Marcel Cummings-Toone was the second try scorer for Waikato, profiting from a lineout drive after lock Chris Middleton had taken the ball cleanly 5m out.
Fullback Trent Renata collected his second conversion to put Waikato out to a 14-11 lead.
Moeke levelled at 14-14, with Waikato giving away penalties at the breakdown, then five minutes from the break the home side got their first penalty from referee Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri and Renata made it 17-14.
Northland took just two minutes of the second half to score their second try and regain the lead after Waikato first-five Sam Christie spilt a high ball and winger Mateo Malupo toed through and just won the race from Renata to touch down, the TMO giving the try the nod to make it 19-17.
Then a big tackle from Rene Ranger brought another Northland penalty and Moeke kicked the goal from over 40m to make it 22-17.
Waikato finally started to play a territory game through the raking boot of Renata and the penalties started to go their way in the end as the Northland defence otherwise held up well.
Renata kicked one of two shots at goal to make it 22-20 and then Moeke missed one after Christie was sin-binned for tackling a chasing player without the ball, after halfback Samisoni Fisilau made a scrum blindside break and put a kick through.
There was a long period where Waikato became too lateral in their attack and ended up playing a lot of rugby in their own half while down to 14 men, but O'Donnell broke the game open in the 71st minute with a brilliant try, racing between a prop and a winger and then going out, in and out to beat defenders and score the go-ahead try.
Renata kicked the conversion to make it 27-22, but the home side were far from safe and when Northland got a penalty within kicking range they decided to kick for the corner and go for the try. It proved an inspired decision, with Northland scoring the match-winning seven points from the ensuing lineout.
Waikato managed to snatch a turnover with time up and put the ball through several phases before young replacement first-five Piers Francis went for an ambitious dropped goal attempt that was easily charged down.
Northland 29 (Faatoina Autagavaia, Mateo Malupo, Dan Prior tries; Ash Moeke conversion, 4 penalty goals)
Waikato 27 (Matt Vant Leven, Marcel Cummings-Toone, Declan O'Donnell tries; Trent Renata 3 conversions, 2 penalty goals).
Halftime: 17-14 Waikato.