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ITM Cup
Canterbury battle past Auckland
ESPNscrum Staff
July 17, 2011

Canterbury withstood a spirited Auckland fightback to kick off the defence of their ITM Cup crown with a thrilling 40-33 victory at Eden Park on Sunday.

Auckland started brightly, with three penalties from Gareth Anscombe helping them into an early 9-0 lead. Brendon O'Connor got the visitors off the mark when he crashed over following a powerful midfield surge from fellow back-row Nasi Manu, but flanker Onosai'i Auva'a replied in kind on the half-hour mark to put Auckland 16-7 up. However, the hosts effectively threw the game away in the final ten minutes of the second half, making a succession of errors which were ruthlessly punished by their opponents, who racked up tries from centre Ryan Crotty and fullback Johnny McNicholl to turn a nine-point deficit into an eight-point advantage by the interval.

Canterbury pulled further clear ten minutes into the second half when Willie Heinz crossed after a patient spell of possession from the reigning champions. Tom Taylor converted once more and then added a penalty - he ended with 20 points to his name in total - as Canterbury opened up a 34-16 advantage. Credit to Auckland, though, they staged a desperate late rally, with a penalty try, a touchdown from Alby Mathewson and a penalty from Anscombe during a frantic five-minute spell drawing them back to within a point. However, Canterbury managed to regain their composure and Taylor slotted two penalties in the closing quarter to secure a valuable away win.

Also on Sunday, Bay of Plenty recorded a hard-fought 20-13 victory over Counties Manukau at Bayer Growers Stadium in Pukekohe.

After the two side's respective fly-halves, Daniel Waenga and James Semple, had exchanged early penalties, Bay of Plenty took control of the contest when hooker Daniel Perrin flopped over after a storming rolling maul from his fellow forwards. Semple converted and then knocked over a penalty as BOP pulled 10 points clear.

However, Counties came storming back, with Semple creating a try for Niva Ta'auso just before the break before landing a long-range strike on goal early in the second half to level matters. The momentum appeared to be with Counties but fullback Toby Arnold won it for the visitors when he blazed over in the corner soon after.

A hat-trick from winger Jason Woodward propelled Wellington to a 23-5 victory over Taranaki in their clash in New Plymouth on Saturday.

Woodward, playing just his second match for the province, outshone All Blacks Andrew Hore, Piri Weepu and Cory Jane and a host of Super Rugby players as Wellington outscored Taranaki three tries to one. The Lions dominated the first half with their Hurricanes heavy lineup keeping the hosts on the back foot. Michael Hobbs, making his first-class comeback after a serious back injury, gave Wellington the lead via a penalty after missing an early attempt, before Taranaki's Beauden Barrett and then Wellington scrum-half Piri Weepu were also astray. Just when it appeared the half would end tryless, the impressive Woodward crossed in the corner just before the break after good lead-up work from skipper Jeremy Thrush and Sopoaga sent him clear.

Taranaki, who were subdued in the opening act, burst into life after the resumption and had a try ruled out before Hurricanes midfield back Jayden Hayward fended off Weepu close to the line to cross after strong work by the Taranaki pack. Barrett's conversion attempt was off target and Hobbs missed another three-point shot before Coles showed his pace to set off on a 30-metre run before offloading to Woodward just short of the line for the 22-year-old to grab his second try of the night which Weepu converted before adding a penalty. Woodward had enough time to grab his hat-trick after Weepu's kick bounced kindly for Alapati Leiua to send the powerful Upper Hutt wing over in the corner.

Manawatu opened with a 32-23 win over Hawke's Bay at FMG Stadium. Tries to Aaron Smith, Tomasi Cama, Casey Stone and Hamish Gosling ensured the bonus point with Aaron Cruden kicking 16 points. The Turbos led 11-9 after a scrappy first half thanks largely to Smith's try just before the break. But back came Hawke's Bay with Ryan McLeod forcing his way over early in the second half for a score that was converted by Andrew Horrell.

Manawatu rallied with Cruden sparking a move that saw Cama cross although it appeared Asaeli Tikoirotuma may have put a foot in touch as he laid on the scoring pass. Cruden added the extras to give his side a little more breathing room but Hawke's Bay battled back again with a try from Sinoti Sinoti that was converted by Horrell to give the visitors a 23-18. However, the game would take one more decisive turn with a spell of pressure leading to a try for Manawatu replacement Stone. Cruden's conversion gave the hosts a narrow two-point lead and they defended that advantage until Gosling's bonus-point try a couple of minutes from time put the result beyond doubt.

Elsewhere, Northland made a winning start to the season with a workmanlike 19-9 victory over Tasman in Whangarei. Ahead 12-6 at half-time, Northland's solid defence kept the visitors tryless in a match which saw both teams concede too much turnover ball. Northland flanker Dan Faleafa opened the scores before Tasman's Andrew Goodman landed a long-range penalty. But Northland had their second try moments later with Aaron Bancroft getting the touch down. Munro added the extras but Goodman offered his side hope with his second penalty before the break.

Bancroft had his second try five minutes into the second half and Munro nailed the difficult conversion to put his side firmly in the lead. Tasman flanker Jonathon Poff went close to reducing the arrears only to be denied by the efforts of Rene Ranger and Bryce Heem. Goodman did manage a third penalty but it was not enough to overhaul their rivals.

Bath-bound fly-half Stephen Donald scored all his side's points as Waikato scored a 19-9 victory over Southland in a testy clash in Invercargill on Friday night. Donald scored a try and landed four penalties and a conversion while his opposite Scott Eade, on debut, kicked three penalties in a match that also saw four players sin-binned. Southland lock Josh Bekhuis and his opposite Romana Graham both got their marching orders for punching in a niggly first half and they were joined by Waikato prop Ben May and Southland hooker Jason Rutledge before the half was complete. Waikato, beaten finalists last year, took a 13-9 lead into the break but should have been ahead by more such was their dominance.

A strong display from Donald, unwanted by the All Blacks selectors, and some strong second half defence in face of a spirited rally from the Stags ensured the Mooloos made a winning start to their campaign in the new look premiership division.

Otago benefitted from three tries in a 12-minute burst to defeat North Harbour 46-29 in the season-opener on Thursday. Veteran fly-half Tony Brown dictated terms and helped Otago win by six tries to four to kick off their 2011 campaign off in impressive style. North Harbour, meanwhile, produced a disjointed display and were monstered at scrum time by a dominant Otago pack which helped them to a 24-5 lead at the break. Their cause was not helped by an inability to consistently take the high ball and Brown's astute kicking made sure they were constantly under pressure.

Brown ran the backline with Eben Joubert (2), Joe Hill, Ben Atiga, TJ Ioane and Rob Verbakel all crossing while unwanted All Blacks lock Tom Donnelly and 36-year-old former international prop Kees Meeuws were prominent in a pack that gave Brown the platform to show his wares.

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