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ITM Cup - Round 13
Waikato book final against Canterbury
ESPNscrum Staff
August 26, 2011
Wellington's Apoua Stewart and North Harbour's Solomon King vie for a high ball, North Harbour v Wellington, ITM Cup, North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2011
Wellington's Apoua Stewart and North Harbour's Solomon King vie for a high ball © Getty Images
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Waikato will play host to Canterbury in Saturday's ITM Cup final after defeating Auckland 26-19 at Hamilton.

It was a commanding performance from Waikato, who entered the match needing to win and collect a bonus point to ensure their presence in next weekend's final. They did precisely that but left it until the 84th minute when former All Blacks first five-eighth Stephen Donald scored his second try and his team's fourth after a withering burst from All Blacks' Liam Messam.

Auckland scored 10 points while Donald was in the sin-bin in the second-half including a fine try to wing George Moala, to lead 19-14 after 55 minutes. But Donald found redemption when he returned to the field because it was his converted try which lifted Waikato back into the lead with one quarter remaining. And it was he who applied the icing to their finals cake after Messam burst 40m up the middle of the field after Waikato forced a turnover.

Earlier, Waikato were well worth their 14-9 half-time lead and should have been ahead by more. Messam was in the thick of the action and had a leading hand in both of his team's two tries before the interval. He made a half beak in the 18th minute before turning the ball inside to centre Save Tokula, who offloaded for fullback Trent Renata to score. Eleven minutes later Messam made a clean break over 30m and featured again in the same move as he provided the final pass which set second five-eighth Jackson Willison en route to the line.

Canterbury beat Otago 29-16 in Dunedin on Saturday to claim the honour of facing Waikato in next week's final.

Despite needing four tries to secure a home final - Canterbury managed just three in Dunedin's new Forsyth Barr Stadium. However it was Otago who went into the break in front. Canterbury's 20-year-old Tyler Bleyendaal put the away side in front with a penalty before Ben Smith opened the try scoring for the home side after he crashed into the corner. They soon extended their lead through a Glen Dickson penalty for Otago, but Bleyendaal dotted down for Canterbury to reduce the deficit. And following a missed conversion both sides traded penalties with the home side going into the break in front.

With a 13-11 lead at the interval, Dickson stepped up to rack up his third penalty of the night in the 43rd minute. But Tom Taylor profited from good work from Buxton Popoali'i to put the away side in front. And despite Bleyendaal's erratic form from the tee, Canterbury closed out the win when Robbie Fruean intercepted an Otago pass and sprinted 60 metres to score under the posts. Try as they might, Canterbury were unable to stretch their lead and secure the all important four try bonus but they will be pleased with the win.

And on Thursday, fly-half Aaron Cruden gave another masterful display as leaders Manawatu secured a championship final against Hawke's Bay with a 27-23 win over bottom-placed Tasman in their clash in Nelson.

Cruden scored 22 points for the home team, picking up two tries as well as setting up a third, but the victory wasn't assured until his decisive try with five minutes to go. Tasman opened the scoring through Joe Wheeler in the sixth minute who then doubled his tally soon after. The second half turned into a battle of attrition until the 63rd minute when flanker Doug Tietjens crashed over. Another Andrew Goodman penalty put Tasman back in front, but Manawatu continued to pound the Tasman line, and eventually the pressure told as Manawatu shifted the ball wide to find Cruden with space and time to dot down.

Manawatu faced another match just three days later on Tuesday against Otago due to a previous postponement with Otago taking the spoils 28-20. Tony Brown proved to be the difference between the two sides coming on in the second-half and steering the side to victory. Doug Tietjens put Manawatu in front in the first-half but Paul Grant struck back for Otago. Going into the second-half 13-8 down, Otago had much to do and Scott Mason crashed over to draw the game. Gareth Evans then put Otago in front with Buxton Popoalii stretching the lead soon after. Aaron Cruden entered the field later on but it was not enough to prevent the defeat although they did score a late try through Waisea Qiokata.

Other headlines from the round included Taranaki keeping the Ranfurly Shield after overcoming Hawke's Bay 29-11 at New Plymouth four days after lifting the shield off Southland.

Young first-five-eighth Beauden Barrett ensured good work from his forwards was not squandered by producing a flawless goal kicking display as he landed seven from seven for an individual haul of 19 points. The breakthrough came in the 34th minute when a strong surge into the 22 by the Taranaki forwards ended with left wing Frazier Climo scoring to put them 16-3 up at half-time. Taranaki opened the scoring in the second-half through second five-eighth Jayden Hayward. They approached the three-quarter mark seemingly safe at 23-6 although Hawke's Bay raised their hopes with a try from wing Richard Buckman but it proved to be in vain.

On Sunday - Bay of Plenty ran in four tries against Southland winning 29-17 at Invercargill on Sunday. The game was effectively a dead-rubber as Southland were already confirmed for relegation while Canterbury and Waikato had secured the finals berth. The visitors led 15-7 at halftime following two tries through Phil Burleigh and Ben Smith. The second half was more of the same, with Burleigh collecting his second try. There was no cooling off period though as Southland collected further five-pointers to flanker John Hardie and Cardiff Vaeaga but the best of the lot was an individual effort from Bay of Plenty replacement flanker Sam Cane, who collected a loose lineout throw on the halfway line and sped off to outpace the defence.

On Saturday, Counties-Manukau surged into third spot after a 34-19 win over Northland in Pukekohe. International sevens star Sherwin Stowers starred for Counties Manukau with a hat-trick of tries. Stowers' pace saw him open the scoring in just the third minute and three minutes later Counties scored again through second five Bundee Aki but Northland broke back through Bryce Heem. A solo try by powerful halfback Augustine Pulu followed quickly before Stowers scored his second of the night. An intercept try by wing Ahsee Tuala gave Counties a stranglehold on the game but Northland finally broke a tiring Counties defence twice through halfback Rhyan Cain and substitute Jack McPhee but surrendered another try to Stowers in the final minute.

On Friday night Wellington secured their spot in next year's Premiership division by bumbling their way to a 29-28 win over North Harbour in Albany. North Harbour outscored their rivals four tries to two with David Raikuna crossing the line twice alongside Chris Smylie and James Parsons. However, Wellington had the boot of Lima Sopoaga to thank with the fly-half contributing 19 points to the total. The away side's tries came through discarded All Blacks wing Hosea Gear and Faifili Levave.

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