Canterbury warmed up for next week's ITM Cup semifinal with a relentless 63-22 win over a gallant Bay of Plenty Steamers side that never gave up in Christchurch on Sunday afternoon.
The pressure was off for the Steamers as far as relegation was concerned, thanks to Hawke's Bay losing their final three games, so it was a chance for the Steamers to be positive and have a crack at the biggest scalp in New Zealand provincial rugby.
Canterbury nearly got off to the perfect start from the kickoff, but were called back for a forward pass with their dangerous centre Robbie Fruean in the clear.
An ugly altercation blighted the next play, with ex-Canterbury man Phil Burleigh introducing himself to Fruean, but it showed the Steamers were fired up for the challenge.
The Steamers fielded a mostly new-look and inexperienced pack and lost possession from their first two scrum feeds, which was a sign of what was to come in the rest of the first half.
They did enjoy some good field position in the opening 10 minutes with the lineout working particularly well.
But a fondness for putting through inane little kicks wasted the excellent front foot ball served up by the pack.
Canterbury fullback Tom Taylor had the first chance for points with a breeze behind him and he made no mistake from a handy angle.
Canterbury's relentless buildup play was impressive and they eventually broke the Bay's defensive line to send winger Johnny McNicholl in at the corner. But referee Keith Brown, in his 110th and final first-class game, spotted a marginal forward pass so the try was wiped out to the delight of a few hardy Bay supporters in the ground.
Bay's scrum was again destroyed from the restart and this time there was no saviour, as quick ball right ended up with Fruean charging over near the corner.
Bay's attacking play was impressive, putting clever inside cut plays together and testing the Canterbury defence. But a lack of composure from Nick McCashin cost his team, as he kicked the ball dead from a penalty to waste a golden opportunity for points.
He had a chance to redeem himself with a penalty attempt from 43 metres and landed a fine goal to reduce the deficit to 10-3 after 29 minutes. A minute later he was lining up another shot from 50 metres, after a fine tackle by prop Greg Pleasants-Tate, but his second attempt was short and wide.
Canterbury's blatant knock-on at a ruck was missed by the officials and instead a penalty was awarded to the red-and-blacks, which Taylor slotted for a 13-3 lead.
The Steamers struck from the kickoff to come storming back into the game, with some lively running from Burleigh and good follow-up work from Kendrick Lynn leading to an excellent team try to lock Leon Power.
Taylor added three more points before the Bay had another good passage on attack, but the inside ball was dropped with the Canterbury defence stretched, to close the half with Bay trailing 16-8.
An outstanding territory kick from Chris Noakes put the Steamers on attack to start the second spell. They won a penalty from the first scrum of the half but the chance for early points was lost through a poor miss by McCashin.
Canterbury are masters of the transition from defence to attack and they came storming into the Steamers' red zone, laying siege to the try line, but initially the defensive line held well as the experienced Tristan Moran replaced Pleasants-Tate in the front row.
Bay captain Jamie Nutbrown, a born-and-bred Cantabrian, made a great try-saving tackle on his opposite Andy Ellis to keep his team in the game.
Canterbury had consecutive scrum feeds five metres out but Moran made an immediate impact as the Bay scrum was far more stable.
The mountain of possession finally paid off for Canterbury as they spun the ball wide and McNicholl scored in the corner. Taylor highlighted the gulf in goal-kicking standards by slotting the conversion from touch and the Steamers were 23-8 down with 30 minutes to play.
Worse followed from the restart, as the game was taken away from the Bay when Canterbury burst away from 70 metres out to score another seven-pointer, and blow the score out to 30-8. No side take their chances better than the defending ITM Cup champions and all it took was a broken tackle and they were in.
Prop Joe Moody scored Canterbury's third try in seven minutes to leave the Steamers facing a potential hiding, but they showed plenty of resolve to attack through a sharp break from Noakes that was nearly finished off by winger Lance MacDonald.
Bay fed an attacking scrum from the next play and again it was MacDonald who lunged for the line but he placed the ball short. In the resulting scramble over the line replacement first-five Maru Henry scored for the Steamers.
Canterbury scored four more tries before the end as the game loosened up when the reserve benches were emptied, but the Steamers contributed plenty to an entertaining last quarter of the match, with Moran scoring his team's third try to end the 2012 ITM Cup campaign.
Canterbury 63 (George Whitelock 2, Robbie Fruean 2, Johnny McNicholl, Joe Moody, Telusa Veaini, Ryan Crotty tries; Tom Taylor 5 con, 3 pens; Tyler Bleyendaal 2 cons)
Bay of Plenty 22 (Leon Power, Maru Henry, Tristan Moran tries; Nick McCashin 2 cons, pen)