Rugby: Canterbury hands Otago reality check

By Campbell Burnes

Canterbury 45 Otago 34
David McDuling of Canterbury runs through to score a try against Otago. Photo / Getty
David McDuling of Canterbury runs through to score a try against Otago. Photo / Getty

Canterbury gave Otago a solid reality check in Christchurch.

Stung last weekend in a major upset at the hands of the Turbos in Palmerston North, the Cantabs regained the Premiership lead in the Mitre 10 Cup, retained the Payne Trophy, and inflicted Otago's first defeat of the season in the Championship.

They monopolised early possession and most of the class on show, while the visitors were working overtime to hang on via the boot of No 10 Fletcher Smith. Otago also missed too many first-up tackles.

Class and slick organisation and execution oozed from Canterbury. Even prop Alex Hodgman, who scored the opening try, showed off a reverse pass.

In the backs, first five Richie Mo'unga ran the cutter beautifully, his nice touches highlighted by a perfectly weighted grubber for wing Johnny McNicholl to score. The latter showed why he will be such a big loss to Canterbury and New Zealand rugby with a superb allround display.

He set up second five Rob Thompson for a try.

In the pack, captain Luke Whitelock led the way in his 50th game for the union, and he took delight in setting up lock David McDuling for a popular try.

Canterbury will be happy left wing Nathan Earle is still with them. There was some conjecture that the Englishman would be called back by UK club Saracens after Chris Ashton was rubbed out for 13 weeks for biting. For now, Earle continues his rugby education in Christchurch, and he was the beneficiary from a sweet McNicholl offload. Fullback Jordie Barrett showcased his quality too.

Flanker Billy Harmon galloped away, swatting off would-be defenders, for a long-range try.

After emptying the bench, Canterbury lost some shape, which may have spared Otago blushes. They did, however, secure a bonus point in the final minute.

Otago had little to show overall, save for two brilliant Matt Faddes' offloads, which sent former New Zealand Under 20s wing Fa'asiu Fuatai in for their first try and then captain and No 8 Paul Grant for their third. They did stiffen their defence as the clock wound down and indeed won the second spell.

Once again we had the unedifying sight of defensive players kicking away at the ball on the ground at the breakdown, making for a safety issue. The sooner the trial laws are binned, the better.

Canterbury will be focused on recovery in the next few days as they eye up a Wednesday evening Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato in Hamilton. The Mooloos will be on high alert.

Otago are next in action on Saturday night versus Auckland at Eden Park.

Canterbury 45 (A. Hodgman, R. Thompson, N. Earle, B. Harmon, J. McNicholl, D. McDuling, N. Vella tries; R. Mo'unga 5 cons) Otago 34 (F. Fuatai, T. Walden, P. Grant, N. Dauwai tries; S. Eade 3 cons, F. Smith con, 2 pens) HT: 24-13

- NZ Herald

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