00 v 38
A four-try burst in the space of 22 minutes gave the five-time defending champions the bonus point they required in order to host the second premiership semi-final against Auckland next Saturday. From there one of the competition favourites scored two second-half tries in quick succession to remind Wellington, Auckland and Counties Manukau of their potent attack.
They did suffer a couple of setbacks, did the five-time defending champions. Halfback Andy Ellis dislocated a shoulder in the first quarter of the match while hooker Corey Flynn withdrew from the team altogether after injuring before the start of play.
Even the injuries couldn’t help a North Harbour side down on confidence as they failed to score a point for the first time in their 28-year history.
Their eighth loss of the season consolidated their position near the bottom of the championship. The fourth largest provincial union in New Zealand hold a one-point lead over Northland in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon, though the latter team have a match in hand.
The fortunes of their opponents couldn’t be more contrasting. A home semi-final confirmed, Canterbury will focus on capitalising on opportunities after two certain tries were botched by poor passes. They will also be wary of a growing medical list and improving their shaky lineout ahead of next Saturday’s semi-final.
North Harbour took confidence from playing with the wind at their backs as they settled into their work early in the first half at North Harbour Stadium.
Their territorial advantage failed to turn into any real chances, however, as Canterbury were resolute in defence and turned the ball over when necessary in the opening 15 minutes.
Once the visitors worked themselves into the match they were unstoppable. North Harbour weren’t helped, though, by 15 missed tackles in the first half, a number of which led to the four tries scored.
Osborne was phenomenal for the visitors in the first half. His fifth try of the season gave him even more confidence to turn provider for his teammates.
The newly recruited Highlanders wing turned assistant for two of the other tries in the first half and, unsurprisingly, they all took place in the middle of the park where Codey Rei’s defensive frailties, in particular, were exposed.
North Harbour went onto the attack in the third quarter of the match but were once again denied by poor handling and poor decision making. Referee Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri awarded the hosts a penalty 10 metres from Canterbury’s line only for flanker Zac Judge to fumble the ensuing tapped kick.
Then, in the 58th minute, replacement first five-eighths Jon Elrick had an opportunity to kick towards the Canterbury line but instead pulled the kick past their dead ball line.
Instead it was Osborne that illustrated his class when his third offload of the afternoon provided Canterbury with its fifth try of the afternoon to Tom Taylor.
Canterbury halfback Willi Heinz illustrated the province’s depth as he scored the visitors’ sixth try to secure the Kevin Gimblett Memorial Trophy.
North Harbour 0
Canterbury 38 (Patrick Osborne, Tyler Bleyendaal, Luke Whitelock, Rob Thompson, Tom Taylor, Willi Heinz tries; Bleyendaal 2 con, Taylor 2 con)