Rugby: Canterbury heading back to Premiership final

By Campbell Burnes

Canterbury 22 Counties Manukau 7
Jordie Barrett of eludes Augustine Pulu for a try. Photo / Photosport
Jordie Barrett of eludes Augustine Pulu for a try. Photo / Photosport

The Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final returns to Christchurch.

After a loose display in Pukekohe to close out the regular season, Canterbury were back to their usual clinical, efficient selves in shutting out a motivated but outgunned Counties Manukau Steelers.

Canterbury took a 17-0 lead to the break and though some of the stats were not in their favour, they defended like demons in the second spell in what was a hard-nosed game of semifinals rugby.

"It was a huge task for the boys after (the loss in) Pukekohe. We talked about squeezing up around that breakdown. They are really dangerous around that area," said Canterbury No 8 and captain Luke Whitelock, whose pile-driving tackle on Steelers halfback Augustine Pulu was indicative of the home team's accuracy in that facet.

The Steelers applied early set-piece pressure, but twice lost the ball over the line and were also denied what looked to be a try to No 8 So'otala Fa'aso'o.

Conversely, Canterbury struck two palpable blows through hooker Ben Funnell and Jordie Barrett, the new All Blacks apprentice, in the first stanza. They did not even miss a beat when lock Dominic Bird did not resume for the second half.

Adopting a swarming defence based on good line speed, Canterbury veritably suffocated the Steelers, whose sole joy was a try to No 6 Jordan Taufua. When Canterbury replacement halfback and NZU rep Jack Stratton scored from a loose Steelers scrum in the 68th minute, it was game, set and match.

Canterbury have now won 23 out of 32 playoffs matches since 1992. It will be a brave man who backs against the Ranfurly Shield holders winning their eighth provincial crown in nine seasons next Saturday night.

There was a moment's silence before the march in tribute to former Canterbury All Black Wally Argus, who died during the week, aged 95.

Canterbury 22 (Ben Funnell, Jordie Barrett, Jack Stratton tries; Barrett 2 con, pen) Counties Manukau 7 (Jordan Taufua try; Luteru Laulala con) HT: 17-0

- NZ Herald

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