Rugby: Canterbury pump Auckland in opener

By Campbell Burnes

Reed Prinsep of Canterbury runs through to score a try during the round one Mitre 10 Cup match between Canterbury and Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Reed Prinsep of Canterbury runs through to score a try during the round one Mitre 10 Cup match between Canterbury and Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

Swab those Cantabs.

They only trained as a full squad from Monday. That being so, it might be breathtaking to watch the defending champs when they really start to gel after a demolition job on the 2015 Premiership finalists that few saw coming. The results from the last three years now show three hidings administered on the Auks in Christchurch, but there was a slickness and sharpness to the Canterbury play that was astonishing for this early in the season.

Leading the way were a typically clinical set-piece and the dancing feet of wing Johnny McNicholl, who grabbed a double, including one solo try, to go with his two individual efforts in the 2015 round-robin match against Auckland. There were myriad other prominent Canterbury performers, such as debutant fullback Jordie Barrett, centre Jack Goodhue, loose forward Reed Prinsep and lock Dominic Bird. Imagine how accurate they will be when Matt Todd is back on deck.

The floodgates creaked open when second five Rob Thompson slipped a ball to his No 10 Richie Mo'unga less than nine minutes in. Then followed a superbly executed lineout drive which saw hooker Ben Funnell plunge over. It wasn't the last productive drive of the night. Auckland's alarm bells were ringing deafeningly when Goodhue set up McNicholl for his first score and Auckland fullback Melani Nanai was binned for a dangerous tackle on the No 13.

Facing a 29-3 deficit at oranges, one might have expected an emphatic Auckland response. But instead they looked shellshocked and incapable of spark, even when Akira Ioane was introduced at the 45-minute mark.

In fact, for most of the night Auckland were flat and poorly organised on defence, and fielding five lineout jumpers had no noticeable effect on their dearth of possession. It was not, sadly, the way to mark lock Liaki Moli's 50th game for the union. They desperately need some thrust and fluency, along with a well-worded rocket. It is not simply a question of talent, with 14 Super Rugby players in the 23.

Canterbury coach Scott Robertson wondered aloud last week how sides would legally be able to slow breakdown ball down under the much-hyped trial laws. He may not have to worry. Other coaches, on this evidence, will be up late at night seeking answers to how to stymie the flow of Canterbury ball from their well-formed mauls and quick rucks.

Auckland return home to play Northland next Friday, and face a soul-searching week at the drawing board, while Canterbury host Crusaders franchise partners Tasman next Sunday.

Canterbury 43 (J. McNicholl 2, R. Mo'unga, B. Funnell, R. Prinsep, N. Vella tries; Mo'unga 4 con, pen, B. Volavola con) Auckland 3 (S. Hickey pen) HT: 29-3

- NZ Herald

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