Waikato storm past Auckland to top Farah Palmer Cup North Pool, earn home semifinal

Waikato storm past Auckland to top Farah Palmer Cup North Pool, earn home semifinal

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Mia Anderson scored two of Waikato’s four tries.

Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Mia Anderson scored two of Waikato’s four tries.

Waikato will host a Farah Palmer Cup semifinal against the Manawatū Cyclones next weekend after impressively beating the Auckland Storm 26-17 at Eden Park on Sunday.

It was only Waikato’s third victory over Auckland since the women’s national provincial championship started in 1999 but this bonus point win was their third in four since first beating the former perennial champions in 2017.

Both sides were assured of a semifinal place because of the competition’s tiebreaker rules before the match, which was a curtain raiser for Sunday’s second Bledisloe Cup test between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

Waikato captain Chelsea Alley looking for a pass against Auckland at Eden Park.

Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Waikato captain Chelsea Alley looking for a pass against Auckland at Eden Park.

Waikato finish top of the North Pool and avoid a tricky trip to Canterbury in the semifinals, while Auckland will have to beat the three-time reigning champions on their turf for a place in the final.

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Canterbury, who hammered the Tasman Mako 84-0 in Christchurch on Saturday, are huge favourites for a fourth successive title after topping the South Pool with maximum points but Auckland will be grateful to at least be in the semifinals.

The Storm finished second, level on points (21) with the Counties Manukau Heat and Northland Kauri, but join Waikato as the north’s two qualifiers thanks to the tiebreaker rules.

Stacey Fluhler’s running game cut Auckland to pieces.

Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Stacey Fluhler’s running game cut Auckland to pieces.

Auckland started better but Waikato stormed into a first-half lead thanks to a double from lock Mia Anderson after two sweeping attacks, stunning the hosts, who had far more territory and possession for long periods.

Waikato were cutting Auckland to pieces, keeping the ball alive, and Black Ferns star Stacey Fluhler was eating up metres with plenty of breaks stretching the home side. It was one of Fluhler’s excellent, evasive runs which led to fullback Renee Holmes’ finish out wide and the visitors led 19-3 at half-time.

Auckland were fortunate Waikato squandered another three clear try-scoring chances and the Storm fought back with second-half tries for Sylvia Brunt and Patricia Maliepo while Waikato’s Leomie Kloppers was in the sinbin.

Black Fern Toka Natua was immense at prop for Waikato, who were holding on after her earlier second-half try, and will have to improve in the finals if they’re any chance of winning their first provincial title.

Waikato centre Carla Hohepa making a break.

Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Waikato centre Carla Hohepa making a break.

Meanwhile, Counties Manukau put on a century on Saturday but have missed out on a place in the semifinals.

Needing a bonus-point win for starters against the Taranaki Whio in Inglewood on Saturday, Counties were always going to keep up their end of the bargain against a side who went winless in their first two seasons in the competition, then picked up a solitary victory this year. It was just going to be how many.

And the visitors to TET Stadium & Events Centre duly obliged by cantering to a 109-3 win, running in a whopping 17 tries, and breaking their own 89 (against North Harbour in week one) for the highest score of this year’s competition.

Shyanne Thompson and Counties Manukau enjoyed a huge win over Taranaki on Saturday. (File photo)

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Shyanne Thompson and Counties Manukau enjoyed a huge win over Taranaki on Saturday. (File photo)

However, with the Northland Kauri also claiming a bonus point in their 32-0 victory over the Bay of Plenty Volcanix in Mt Maunganui on Saturday, it dashed the Heat’s hopes of making it six successive playoff appearances since semifinals were reintroduced in 2015.

That is because Northland and Counties finished equal on 21 points and Auckland go through on the tiebreaker rules.

Under the competition’s regulations, if three teams are tied on points, the side with the most competition points against the other tied teams advances.

In this case, Counties only had five, while Auckland and Northland had six.

Alana Bremner goes in for a try in Canterbury’s thrashing of Tasman in Christchurch on Saturday.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Alana Bremner goes in for a try in Canterbury’s thrashing of Tasman in Christchurch on Saturday.

That meant it went to head between Auckland and Northland, and with the Storm having won 29-22 in their regular season meeting, they advance to face Canterbury.

Had Northland not picked up the bonus point on Saturday, though, Counties would have still been in the hunt, because in a two-way tie between teams, head to head is indeed used as the separator, and the Heat had beaten the Storm 36-22 in their round-robin clash.

Manawatū, who sealed second spot in the South Pool on Friday with their 29-12 win over the Hawke’s Bay Tui in Napier, face Waikato away in the semifinals.

New Zealand Rugby is due to confirm the details for the semifinals on Monday.

AT A GLANCE

Farah Palmer Cup, Week 7

Manawatū Cyclones 29 (Selica Winiata, Rangimarie Sturmey, Kalyn Takitimu-Cook, Carys Dallinger, Alesha Williams tries; Winiata 2 con) Hawke’s Bay Tui 12 (Michaela Baker, Amelia Pasikala tries; Krysten Cottrell con). HT: 19-5.

Canterbury 84 Tasman Mako 0. HT: 39-0.

Northland 32 Kauri Bay of Plenty Volcanix 0. HT: 15-0.

Counties Manukau Heat 109 Taranaki Whio 3. HT: 50-3.

Waikato 26 (Mia Anderson 2, Renee Holmes, Toka Natua tries; Chelsea Alley 3 con). Auckland Storm 17 (Sylvia Brunt, Patricia Maliepo tries; Maliepo 2 con, pen) HT: 19-3.

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