Rugby: Auckland thrashed by Canterbury

Patrick Osborne of Canterbury skips out of a tackle during the round one ITM Cup match between Canterbury and Auckland. Photo / Getty Images.
Patrick Osborne of Canterbury skips out of a tackle during the round one ITM Cup match between Canterbury and Auckland. Photo / Getty Images.

Canterbury 41
Auckland 9

New Auckland coach Paul Feeney now knows exactly how high the bar needs to be raised should he entertain any notion of winning the ITM Premiership this season.

Auckland were thrashed 41-9 by the six-time defending champions in Christchurch, in a match where the ball rarely escaped the visitors' half.

The game was effectively over at halftime, with Canterbury heading into the sheds with 73 per cent possession and 27 points on the board. But it was the manner of dominance which will be most worrying for Auckland.

Yes, Canterbury's backline of Patrick Osborne, Tom Taylor and Adam Whitelock were menacing, but Auckland's defensive frailties and inability to keep possession were of equal alarm.

When Auckland did break the line, they knocked it on. When they defended in numbers, they still left holes and every time it looked like they might be getting back into the game, Canterbury clinically stepped it up another gear.

There's a good reason Canterbury have won six titles in a row. Despite losing top experienced talent like George Whitelock, Andy Ellis and Corey Flynn this season, they have plugged the gaps with young talent, moulded them into form and look a very complete team who will take some beating this year.

By contract, Auckland were a mess. They were unable to unleash their talented backline of George Moala, Francis Saili and Charles Piutau because, for long periods of the game, they simply had no possession. Auckland also received a big blow in the 30th minute when exciting wing Lolagi Visinia had to be replaced after pulling his hamstring.

Osborne was the standout player for Canterbury. His power, pace and timing tore open the Auckland defence on numerous occasions and his link-up play with Willie Heinz and Taylor was often electric.

Auckland looked to the experience of Gareth Anscombe when the chips were down and, while his kicking game was perfect from the tee, he wasn't able to affect the game the way he would have liked.

Auckland started the second half with urgency, but also desperation. Saili tried to spark the troops into life by ambitiously running the ball out of defence five minutes after the restart, but when he knocked on Canterbury clinically pounced, scored their fourth try through McNicholl and put the result out of doubt with the bonus-point try.

Taylor was exceptional with the boot for Canterbury, slotting all of his six kicks, but left the game early after taking a nasty-looking poke to the eye.

Peter Saili capped off a night to forget for Auckland when he was shown a yellow card in the 61st minute for a professional foul which prevented a certain Canterbury try.

Osborne put the icing on the cake with the last play of the match, touching down under the posts for the home side's sixth try.

Heinz was one of Canterbury's top performers and the captain credited a well-understood team style of play for their success.

"It was really good to get that one under the belt," said Heinz. "We had limited preparation after only coming in at the start of the week but I was proud of the way the boys rolled their sleeves up and got on with it. I thought we played pretty well.

"Playing with width is a bit of a blueprint that we've had over the past few seasons and we're lucky we have a lot of guys who are pretty familiar with it. But the new boys came in and grasped it well and did a great job."

Canterbury 46 (Johnny McNicholl 2, Joel Everson, Adam Whitelock, Matt Todd, Patrick Osborne tries; Tom Taylor 2 pens, 4 cons; Tyler Bleyendaal 1 con, Richie Mo'unga 1 con) Auckland 9 (Gareth Anscombe 3 pens). HT 27-6.

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