Rugby: Canterbury cut loose against Waikato

Piers Francis of Waikato tackles Robbie Fruean of Canterbury during the round nine ITM Cup match between Waikato and Canterbury. Photo / Getty Images.
Piers Francis of Waikato tackles Robbie Fruean of Canterbury during the round nine ITM Cup match between Waikato and Canterbury. Photo / Getty Images.

Canterbury 52
Waikato 27

Nine tries, a dry track, an afternoon kick-off, this match was everything last season's final between the two teams at the same Waikato Stadium venue was not.

In that match 12 months ago, Canterbury won a game dominated by kicking 12-3 to claim their fourth consecutive championship. On today's evidence their attack is extremely sound - as six tries would attest - and although their defence was not quite as good at times, this five-point victory cements their place in the top four.

They had scored their fourth try after only 25 minutes - three came in the first 12 minutes - and they threatened to embarrass the Mooloos. Johnny McNicholl, Robbie Fruean and Nasi Manu were cutting the defence open almost at will, with George Whitelock also taking advantage of lax tackling to score, but gradually Waikato worked their way back.

Tries to props Toby Smith and Ben May added respectability but Brendon Leonard's on halftime narrowed the gap to 29-24 and it was game on again.

Last year Canterbury relied on Tom Taylor to earn them their points and again his kicking was important. He scored 22 points through five conversions and four penalties and missed only two attempts.

Two long-distance penalties after halftime stretched their lead and a try to replacement prop Paea Fa'anunu after 65 minutes eased the pressure on the Cantabs. Fruean's second try on fulltime - an intercept - inflated the final score.

It was an impressive response to last weekend's failed Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki in miserable conditions in New Plymouth. They also had the rare luxury of an eight-day turnaround to prepare and they certainly started like a team keen to get back to work.

"To stay in the front bunch we needed to win today and we did it so we're pretty happy,'' captain George Whitelock said.

For Waikato it was their fourth loss in six matches and they are in danger of relegation. They face another tough challenge in the form of Tasman in Hamilton on Thursday, while Canterbury have an easier prospect in Southland at AMI Stadium in Christchurch next Sunday.

Centre Save Tokula and halfback Leonard were Waikato's best players, though the latter was substituted after 50 minutes.

Canterbury 52 (Robbie Fruean 2, Nasi Manu, Johnny McNicholl, George Whitelock, Paea Fa'anunu tries; Tom Taylor 5 cons, 4 pens)

Waikato 27 (Toby Smith, Ben May, Brendon Leonard tries; Trent Renata 3 cons, 2 pens).
HT: 29-24.


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