Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby: Auckland dismantle defending champs

Auckland started fast to build a big lead and dismantle Canterbury at Eden Park tonight. Photo / Getty
Auckland started fast to build a big lead and dismantle Canterbury at Eden Park tonight. Photo / Getty

Auckland 39
Canterbury 19

It was labelled 'Heritage Day' at Eden Park and Auckland's incumbents showed their forebears - swathed in coats, scarves and hats in the grandstand - some rugby commitment as they dismantled arch-rivals and five-time provincial defending champions Canterbury.

Before last night Auckland had lost their previous six matches against Canterbury, stretching to 2008 and including last year's ITM Cup final.

Individual stars were aplenty but the team showed the value of territory and error-free rugby as they stretched to a 25-0 lead in 22 minutes. There was barely a knock-on in the first half hour. Auckland's ball recycling, their straight running into contact and commitment at the breakdown with body positions which drove low about a metre past the ball limited Canterbury's chances of pilfering.

Waves of such intensity sealed the contest. Auckland saved their energy as Canterbury sapped theirs.

No halftime oranges in the world (unless they're perhaps cut up by Team Oracle USA) could reverse the 32-7 deficit.

Canterbury did their equivalent of America's Cup foiling in the first 10 minutes of the second half with two tries from replacement Rob Thompson. He produced Pilates-like flexibility in the tackle to drag the score back to 32-19.

Eden Park might have contained enough vacant grey seats to have financial controllers wincing, but Auckland's display took them into clear second on the table behind undefeated Wellington and closer to a home semi-final. That should right any revenue deficit.

First five-eighths Simon Hickey's option-taking was a key success factor. From his early touches, such as sending Sean Polwart into the defensive line at full pace, he was dictating play. He scored the opening try scything through the defensive line at pace after Auckland had produced enough cohesion to run the Canterbury defence ragged.

Hickey also landed a penalty from halfway in the first half with the wind at his back which would have made the visitors think twice about offending. His main error came when he did all the hard work chasing a Wayne Ngaluafe kick and burning off Milford Keresoma before winding himself as he failed to force the ball in the in-goal.

Jack Whetton was dynamic at lock. He was the lineout moneyman, galloped to the breakdown, tackled feverishly and carried at pace. He could have added a ½ to the 5 on his back as a blindside reinforcement. Fellow lock Liaki Moli wasn't far behind.

No.8 Peter Saili delivered a sound portfolio of work, particularly in the vulnerable area of restarts. Fullback Lolagi Visinia produced the fend of the match to send Canterbury wing Patrick Osborne reeling. Wing George Moala showed his passing skills and was elusive with the ball in hand as Auckland favoured the left of the field. He deserved his second half try.

Canterbury dominated the scrum which occasionally made life tough for Saili but Auckland compensated with their authority in the lineouts and at the breakdown. Ryan Crotty and Nasi Manu (returning from injury) ran powerfully with high work rates while George Whitelock was his usual stalwart self at openside.

Auckland 39 (S.Hickey, L.Visinia, T. Sauileoge, K.Pryor, G.Moala tries, Hickey 4 con, 2 pen)
Canterbury 19 (P.Osborne, R.Thompson 2 tries, R.Mo'unga 2 con).
HT: 32-7.

- Herald on Sunday

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