Canterbury retain top spot and Ranfurly Shield
September 20, 2009
Canterbury's Tu Umaga-Marshall celebrates scoring against Taranaki in Christchurch © Getty Images
Canterbury retained their place at the top of the Air New Zealand Cup table and the treasured Ranfurly Shield by repelling Taranaki's gritty challenge 29-17 in Christchurch on Friday night.
It was appropriate that Canterbury's back three combined to score their four tries as they repelled Taranaki's kick-based challenge with a game based on width and speed out wide. Handling errors from the home side left the scores tied 14-14 at half-time but 10 points within four minutes of the re-start blew the game open.
A penalty to fly-half Stephen Brett was followed by a converted try to winger James Paterson after the ball went through several pairs of hands in a sweeping move to the left. Fullback Sean Maitland scored the try of the match, and his second, with 20min remaining to virtually secure the outcome and a second successful shield defence following last week's win over Otago.
Brett doubled around brilliantly and his deft grubber was gathered by Maitland, whose bonus point try gave Canterbury the outright competition lead over Southland. Taranaki were expected to provide the defending champions with a stern examination after winning their three previous matches, including a 20-year drought-breaking defeat of Wellington last weekend.
They were competitive at set piece and led 8-7 after 20min after winger Shayne Austin crossed from a stolen lineout. First five-eighth Willie Ripia kicked their other points through four penalties but they couldn't contain the movement and clinical breakdown work of a Canterbury side seriously weakened by injury and All Blacks absentees.
Southland took a comfortable 14-6 victory over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on Thursday to keep the pressure on the leaders. The home-side put up a staunch fight, giving the vocal crowd at Growers Stadium plenty to cheer about before eventually being swamped defensively by the visitors.
After a suspected broken ankle took No.8 Viliami Fihaki from the field within the first 30 seconds of the match, Counties Manukau recovered quickly to put the first points on the board with a penalty from Tim Nanai-Williams.
Seven minutes later, Nanai-Williams doubled the lead with a second penalty. Having missed two penalties earlier in the game, Southland managed their first points with an unconverted try from Pehi Te Whare, as the winger dragged Counties Manukau's Lelia Masaga over the try-line in the effort.
It looked as though Counties Manukau would have the lead going into the halftime break until, in the dying moments of the half, Southland's Robbie Robinson snatched a penalty to take his team to an 8-6 lead. Two more penalties from Robinson early in the second half stretched Southland's lead to a comfortable 14-6.
Elsewhere on Thursday, Bay of Plenty held their nerve to beat Tasman 24-13 in a spiteful, error-ridden game in Mount Maunganui.
A try to burly scrum-half Junior Poluleuligaga with 17 minutes remaining broke the deadlock but the match was marred by poor handling which belied the lofty standing of both sides. Several flashpoints late in the first half saw three yellow cards dished out in three minutes by Australian referee Nathan Pearce.
The hosts were hit hardest, losing back-rowers Luke Braid and Colin Bourke at close intervals while Tasman scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i was also sin-binned, turning the match into a 14 versus 13 affair for several minutes.
Bay of Plenty hit the front in the 16th minute through a try to centre Phil Burleigh, while Poluleuligaga's burrowing try was a result of concerted pressure, one of the few times in the game that one team could hold the ball through multiple phases. Captain Bourke made the game safe near the end by charging down a clearing kick and scoring. Tasman trailed 3-7 at half-time but pulled ahead for the only time early in the second half through a try to lock Alex Ainley after a strong burst by hooker Quentin MacDonald.
On Saturday, North Harbour stemmed the bleeding to register a long overdue success with a dogged 16-14 win over Auckland. They hauled themselves off the bottom of the standings with just their second win in eight outings, and their first since the competition opener against Canterbury.
With Auckland continuing a season-long trend of frequently infringing at the breakdown, three penalties from fly-half Mike Harris kept North Harbour in contention before they hit the front for the first time midway through the second spell at Eden Park in Auckland.
North Harbour snuck in front after a fine try to second five-eighth Andrew Mailei following clever play by Rudi Wulf, Jack McPhee and George Pisi which had helped make up for a loose pass on their own side of halfway. North Harbour held the upperhand entering the last 10 minutes, although Harris missed an opportunity to extend the lead when a 42m penalty attempt drifted to the right.
But they entered the closing minutes buoyed by the prospects of an unexpected win and were helped by Auckland's jittery play as Winston Stanley dropped a pass when under no pressure. North Harbour scrum-half Chris Smylie conceded a free kick for delaying his scrum feed with time almost up but Auckland could not take advantage, coughing up possession as they sought to position themselves for a dropped goal.
Hawke's Bay moved into the top four with a dominant 32-10 victory over Otago in Napier. But they needed maximum points to do it with fullback Israel Dagg and skipper Jason Shoemark each getting two tries.
They were aided by a great start, sprinting out of the blocks to be 12-0 up after just five minutes, with Dagg and then Shoemark scoring in the same corner. Looking to avoid a third successive defeat, Otago got on the board with a penalty to fly-half Michael Witt, and they were kept in the game by a heavy penalty count against the home side.
Hawke's Bay pulled away again through a classy second try to Dagg but having been warned by referee Keith Brown for repeated infringements at the breakdown, they finally had a player sinbinned, with lock Ross Kennedy going off five minutes from half-time.
Hawke's Bay secured a valuable bonus point score in the second half with Shoemark going through a hole close to line to score by the goalposts.
Waikato remain alive in the competition after beating Wellington 23-18 in Hamilton. They showed the desperation and enthusiasm necessary to collect four invaluable competition points at Waikato Stadium against a Wellington side on the slide.
After a slow and hesitant start to their campaign Waikato have now improved to a four-win four-loss record, identical to Wellington. But just as Waikato are warming to their task Wellington show every sign of going cold.
They were reliant on the goalkicking of Daniel Kirkpatrick for all of their points as they slumped to their third loss in four outings in an error-ridden display during which Waikato outmuscled them in the contact area.
In the final game of the round, Northland came to life to post a deserved 25-18 win over Manawatu in Palmerston North. Few gave Northland much chance as they entered the eighth round match in 13th place on the standings after a wildly inconsistent campaign.
But they tipped the form book aside to secure their third win of the season on the back of an intelligent, controlled performance in blustery conditions. Three tries-to-none was emphatic enough for Northland, whose main shortcoming was discipline as Manawatu stayed in touch through six penalties from first five-eighth Isaac Thompson.
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