Bay of Plenty 19
Northland won the battle of the basement in Whangarei today, beating Bay of Plenty to send off captain Rene Ranger on a high.
Both sides came into the clash marooned on the bottom of their respective divisions and without a win since round two, but Northland displayed a resolute second-half defence to edge it 20-19.
The win lifted the Taniwha out seventh spot in the ITM Cup championship and handed the wooden spoon to North Harbour, while Bay of Plenty, relegated from the premiership last week, finished the season with a solitary triumph.
With little else to play for, it was hardly a surprise for the hosts to make a winner of Ranger in his last game for the province. The centre, who will now take up a contract with French club Montpellier, celebrated his final game in New Zealand with the game's first try in an open first half.
After a push-over scrum saw Carl Axtens level the game for the Steamers, Mateo Malupo found open pastures on the left wing and streaked away to give the home side a 15-7 lead at the break.
With a considerable breeze at their backs, Bay of Plenty would have been confident of making in-roads into that deficit in the second spell, and it took less than a minute for Nick Evemy to take advantage of an overlap near the line.
But in an ugly second half as conditions deteriorated, it was a moment of beauty which eventually won it. Malupo was 60 metres out when he received the ball, but the wing goose-stepped past one attempted tackler and busted through two more to dot down in the corner.
Bay of Plenty huffed and puffed but Northland's defence held firm to their eight-point lead, until Te Aihe Toma crossed for a consolation try after the hooter.
Northland 20 (Ranger, Malupo 2 tries; Hawkins con, pen)
Bay of Plenty 19 (Axtens, Evemy, Toma tries; Ripia 2 cons)