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ITM Cup - Round 12
Canterbury power to Shield defence
ESPNscrum Staff
October 17, 2010
Canterbury's Robbie Fruean celebrates scoring a try, Canterbury v Counties Manukau, ITM Cup, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand, October 16, 2010
Canterbury's Robbie Fruean celebrates scoring a try against Counties Manukau © Getty Images
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Canterbury got their latest Ranfurly Shield reign off to a winning start, beating Counties Manukau 39-21 in their ITM Cup clash in Christchurch on Saturday.

The bonus-point victory as good as sealed a home semi-final for the defending champions for whom midfield backs Robert Fruean and Sonny Bill Williams had too much class for Counties to contain, notwithstanding the leadership provided by Tana Umaga.

Billed as a clash between the master and the pupil from their time together at French club Toulon, Umaga would have been feeling his age when Williams broke his former mentor's tackle to score his side's second try. Counties, despite missing the penetration of speedy fullback Tim Nanai-Williams, had an even share of the match early on but rushed passes proved costly as they turned ball over. Counties Manukau's usually exuberant game was suffocated by strong Canterbury defence which left them few crumbs of possession with which to exploit.

Fruean, Williams, Telusa Veainu and Owen Franks all crossed for tries with a penalty try heaping woe on the visitors. Fly-half Stephen Brett finished with two penalties and four conversions to his name. Sileki Nabou, Sherwin Stowers and Ahsee Tuala grabbed scores for Counties but in truth they were out-played.

Auckland continued 34 years of Otago misery at Eden Park with a convincing 39-11 win over the southerners that kept hopes of a home semi-final well and truly alive. Auckland scored three first half tries through Toby Morland, Isaia Toeava and Gareth Anscombe and added another two in the second half thanks to Tom McCartney and Joe Rokocoko to claim a bonus-point win, which sees them move up to second with 40 points, five behind leaders Canterbury.

A broken leg to first five Piri Weepu marred Wellington's 49-15 bonus-point victory over Taranaki. Strengthened by All Blacks Weepu and centre Ma'a Nonu, and bouyant after last week's 52-23 win over North Harbour, Wellington never let Taranaki establish a firm foothold on the game. Wellington's pack led by No.8 Victor Vito, Neemia Tialata, Dane Coles and John Schwalger with able support from Jeremy Thrush and loose forwards Faifili Levave and Scott Fuglistaller, dominated the Taranaki pack.

A 17-8 lead at half-time from tries to wing Alipate Leiua, fullback Apoua Stewart and Alby Mathewson, the last converted by Weepu, set the foundation for Wellington. Tajhon Mailata, Scott Fuglistaller, Nonu and Charlie Ngatai crossed after the break. Taranaki's only tries came from Jayden Hayward and Scott Ireland.

Bay of Plenty kept their top four playoff hopes alive while delivering Southland's a potentially fatal blow with a 33-22 win at Mt Maunganui. Bay of Plenty were quick out of the blocks, scoring two tries in the opening 10 minutes, and kept the foot down until a late, but ultimately fruitless, Southland fling as the home team rebounded from last week's 39-41 upset loss to Tasman with a bonus-point win.

Out of form and with a tricky home match against Wellington in the final round, Southland's chances of making the top seven cut are in the balance. They lacked the same firepower as Bay of Plenty had at their disposal, with the home team's forwards punching holes up the middle and their backs finding plenty of space out wide. Mike Delany, Lelia Masaga, Toby Arnold, Taniela Moa and Colin Bourke all grabbed tries for the hosts with scores from James Wilson, Seminar Manu and Brayden Mitchell adding some respectability to the scoreboard.

All Blacks tour hopeful Stephen Donald continued his superb recent form with a last-gasp converted try for Waikato as they beat a brave Manawatu 27-25 in Palmerston North on Thursday. The fly-half hit the line at pace one off the ruck to force his way over before adding the extras to lift his personal contribution to 22 points. It was a cruel blow for 13th-placed Manawatu, who outplayed the semi-final hopefuls for large chunks of the game only to falter in the dying stages. Donald initiated their comeback in the 45th minute with an outstanding piece of individual brilliance which saw him bust the line at halfway and outpace the thin cover.

His opposite Aaron Cruden responded with a try of his own just minutes later, using his pace over a much shorter distance to dot down after finding a big gap in the Waikato defensive screen. Donald and Cruden traded penalties before a Mils Muliaina break set up halfback Malcolm Barnes for a try. Manawatu hit back hard with another try, this time to lock Michael Fitzgerald, but Donald had the last word, much to Manawatu's horror after they had contributed so much to a fine contest.

On Friday, Tasman continued their role as late season spoilers to upset Northland 34-29 in Nelson. Having tipped over Bay of Plenty in a high-scoring thriller last weekend, Tasman scored five tries in registering their fourth win of the season. Behind 8-19 at the interval, they put on 19 unanswered points in as many minutes after the resumption with the sort of form which belied their lowly 12th placing in the standings at the start of the 12th round.

Skipper Chris Jack, prop Fai Mika, No.8 Poutasi Luafutu and wingers Blair Cook and Kade Poki scored tries for Tasman in their comeback, with Northland seeing their chance of victory evaporate when a late lineout went astray close to the Tasman line. They scored first-half tries to Lachie Munro, Roy Griffin and Matt Wallis while replacement Tim Dow brought them back into contention late on.

And, ,b>Hawke's Bay skipper Jason Shoemark farewelled his Napier home ground with a win as he led his side to a 36-21 win over North Harbour. Shoemark, who leaves at the end of the season to take up a two-year contract with England's Exeter club helped his side recover from a 14-16 deficit at half-time to grab a come-from-behind win.

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