Rugby: Canterbury savour new home debut

By David Leggat

Andy Ellis of Canterbury runs in to score a try during match against Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Andy Ellis of Canterbury runs in to score a try during match against Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

Canterbury 33 Auckland 11

Time was when this was the rugby occasion of the domestic calendar. Packed grounds, piles of feeling, and not just in the 1980s when the two provinces provided the bulk of All Black teams in a particular strong era.

Now the rugby landscape has changed to make the old days almost unrecognisable; it's a midweek fixture, heaps of empty seats - an 8500 crowd leaving the AMI Stadium less than half full - with the ITM Cup long since reduced to a proving ground for those with Super Rugby, or higher, aspirations. Still the domestic competition has its charms, notably the enabling of spectators to relate to their province rather than a chunk of New Zealand redrawn for one specific purpose.

Canterbury have won the last four cups. Having been turned over by Tasman at the death in their opener, needed this win. Once they asserted themselves, they were always safe.

An Auckland win, on the back of beating Hawkes Bay last week, would have given them the ideal campaign launch pad. However they weren't good, or savvy enough against a Canterbury side determined to make their debut on this ground in suburban Addington a night to savour.

The game sparkled early with a try each. Auckland's came against the early run of play by wing Ben Lam after his forwards squirrelled the ball away at a ruck, centre Malakai Fekitoa made strong ground and departing halfback Alby Matthewson kept it going; Canterbury's was by halfback Andy Ellis, finishing a terrific set piece effort from a scrum 70 metres away from the Auckland line, several hands ensuring the ball stayed alive.

By the time Ellis got his second, 12 minutes before the break, the reward for plenty of patience and an east-west probing approach waiting for a one-on-one mismatch - in this case hard-running second five-eighth Ryan Crotty on prop Charlie Faumuina - Canterbury were putting the squeeze on.

There was a growing relentlessness about their work in possession. No one was left to fend for themselves; the support play top class, they defended stoutly and long before the end there was no question who were the superior team. Tom Taylor kicked six from six, ensuring slipups would be punished.

Auckland were simply unable to put enough heat on Canterbury's defence in the second half, and ran out of ideas. Next it's Manawatu at Eden Park on Sunday. It's still early, but 'Must Win' leaps to mind.

Canterbury 33 (Andy Ellis 2, Willie Heinz tries; Tom Taylor 4 pen, 2 con, Tyler Bleyendaal con)
Auckland 11 (Ben Lam try; Gareth Anscombe 2 pen). HT: 20-11.

- NZ Herald

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