Last year's epic semifinal clash was a distant memory as perennial champions Canterbury crushed Taranaki by 30-6 in Christchurch tonight.
Taranaki hardly fired a significant shot, one of their few memorable ones being a high tackle from the notoriously ill-disciplined Jarrad Hoeata which gifted Canterbury the opening points of the first round ITM Cup clash.
Taranaki, who were expected to give an injury-depleted Canterbury a decent run for their money, were woefully disappointing. The home side gave new coach Scott Robertson an encouraging start in the province's quest for a sixth successive title.
This was a mini-me version of classic Crusaders rugby squashing the life out of a half-hearted, mistake ridden opponent. Trailing 6 - 15 at the break, any thoughts of a Taranaki revival were quickly removed by two Canterbury strikes in the third quarter.
Taranaki had saved the best until last in the first half - a massive Andre Taylor penalty. But Taylor was also the villain, his poor decision and execution on a chip kick having turned a rare Taranaki attack into a long range Canterbury try a few minutes earlier.
Canterbury efficiently controlled much of the first spell with their wings Patrick Osborne and Milford Keresoma providing a few sparkling moments. The champions owned the first half hour, when Taranaki could hardly get a hand on the ball and were camped inside their half.
Just as it seemed the dominance might turn to frustration, Canterbury constructed a lovely try, driving a rolling maul down the left and finding the hint of an opportunity for Osborne on the right. The big wing stepped inside two defenders, swirled the ball around in a one-handed basketball-style move, and powered over the line.
Then came Taylor's shocker of a chip kick which Osborne turned into attack. Impressive flanker Matt Todd's quick tap penalty brought the try. Taranaki's error strewn half found minor relief at the break, when Taylor slammed a 50 metre penalty well over the crossbar.
Canterbury started the second half in style though, Bleyendaal sending cross kicks right then left, the second landing perfectly for lock Luke Katene to steam over for Canterbury's third try. A Bleyendaal penalty soon followed prompting Taranaki coach Colin Cooper to send on a platoon of replacements.
Taranaki might console themselves by knowing they would struggle to play this badly again. Any repeats will make for a troubled season.
Canterbury 30 (Patrick Osborne, Matt Todd, Luke Katene, Adam Whitelock tries, Tyler Bleyendaal 2 con, 2 pen)
Taranaki 6 (Andre Taylor 2 pen). HT: 15-6.