Playoffs race murky with one round to go
The playoff race in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship remains muddied with one round remaining.
Wins to Northland and Bay of Plenty over their Championship rivals has kept the ladder in flux, with four sides fighting for the three remaining semifinal spots.
While Wellington have locked up top spot, the race is on to host the second semifinal, with just four points separating second and fifth. Northland are second on the ladder on 25 points, following a comfortable 34-7 victory over Hawke’s Bay. A double to Dan Pryor and a try to the alsodreadlocked Rene Ranger saw them cruise, but they face a tough finish to their season, having to visit Wellington in their final match.
The same goes for Bay of Plenty, who ground out a 36-28 victory over Otago to jump into third on 23 points. They finish with a home game against Premiership strugglers Waikato, and could be a chance to snare a result if they show the same form they did against Otago.
The result — and the late try which denied Otago a bonus point — dropped Otago to fifth on 21 points, but they have the easiest game left against winless Southland, and could finish as high as second.
The last domino to fall will be fourth-placed Manawatu, on 22 points. They finish with two games in a week — a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki and a trip to Hawke’s Bay, likely needing to pick up one victory to make the semifinals.
Otago 28 (F. Smith, J. Nareki, M. Faddes tries; Smith con, pen; J. Ioane con, 2 pens) Bay of Plenty 36 (H. Blake, T. Hepetema, J. Webber, C. Tiatia, L. Campbell tries; M. Delany con, 3 pens). Halftime: 15-13.
Northland 34 (D. Pryor 2, R. Ranger, T. Bond tries; P. Breen 2 cons, pen; D. Hawkins 2 cons, pen) Hawke’s Bay 7 (C. Vaega try; I. West con). Halftime: 17-7.