Rugby: Canterbury ready for another title tilt

By Daniel Richardson

Ryan Crotty of Canterbury breaks through tackles during the round 15 ITM Cup match between Canterbury and Bay of Plenty at AMI Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Ryan Crotty of Canterbury breaks through tackles during the round 15 ITM Cup match between Canterbury and Bay of Plenty at AMI Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

It wouldn't feel like finals time in the ITM Cup unless Canterbury were involved.

And, sure enough, the red-and-black clad side will host Taranaki in Christchurch in their Premiership semifinal tomorrow afternoon (Sat) as they eye a remarkable fifth-consecutive title.

You could argue that with their deep roster and plethora of Super Rugby players they should be perennial title contenders but at the same time, you still have to go out and win games to get your hands on the trophy.

In the past four years Canterbury have done just that; they've won games.

This year Tabai Matson is in charge after he took over from Rob Penney and the first-term head coach said his side had gained the most from their two losses of the season.

Canterbury began the competition with an upset 25-22 defeat to Tasman, while they were unsuccessful at trying to reclaim the Ranfurly Shield from Taranaki when they went down 18-9 in New Plymouth in round seven.

"Turning your mindset to a loss not being a failure but a learning opportunity changes everything," Matson explained.

"When you see an opportunity like that, to go 'well, we were wrong, how can we fix that if that happens again, how will we react', that changes your process around losses. What it does create is growth. So I believe on the back of that our team has just slowly crept forward in different areas of the game and we've finished the competition really strong."

Matson's not exaggerating either.

The past three games have seen Canterbury dismantle Bay of Plenty 63-22, hammer Hawke's Bay 44-3 and they also took Northland apart 56-11.

Throw in a record-breaking 84-0 victory over Southland three weeks ago and you can see how Canterbury are arguably the form team in the competition at the right time.

One man who has been a constant in the Canterbury side this season is skipper George Whitelock who has played in all of his side's 10 games, starting nine, while he also made 17 starts of a possible 18 for the Crusaders in this year's Super Rugby campaign.

Matson said the one-cap All Black, who has been a part of all four of Canterbury's recent ITM Cup triumphs, was a true workhorse.

"He is probably the most under-rated loose forward, captain in the country. He's been an inspiration. He's played well. He's led well," Matson said.

"He has just quietly beavered away in the last few years and this year he's doing it again. He's just leading the way, I could talk all night about him. He's fantastic."

Matson has had to deal with a number of injuries this week, including knee ailments to loose forwards Matt Todd and Nasi Manu and Canterbury had to recall Jordan Taufua from Tasman where he was playing on loan.

In the other Premiership semifinal, Wellington will host Auckland at Westpac Stadium tomorrow night.

The Chris Boyd-coached Wellingtonians have been in hot form recently and looked sharp as they disposed of Taranaki 33-17 in the capital last weekend.

Auckland beat Wellington 43-30 during the regular season but the Lions will start as favourites tomorrow.

In the Championship, Counties will meet Southland in Pukekohe in their semifinal clash at 2.05pm tomorrow.

ITM Cup Premiership semifinals

- Canterbury v Taranaki, Christchurch, 4.35pm, tomorrow

Canterbury finished top of the Premiership ladder with eight wins from 10 outings, but Taranaki will back themselves given their sturdy forward pack and they will also have All Blacks pivot Beauden Barrett in the saddle.

- Wellington v Auckland, Wellington, 7.05pm, tomorrow

Wellington are peaking at the right time and looked impressive when they easily accounted for Taranaki last weekend. Auckland beat Wellington in the regular season but the Lions will hope they can turn the tables when it matters most.

- APNZ

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