Canterbury unleashed a withering three-try burst in eight minutes either side of half-time to secure what proved a match-winning advantage in their 56-26 win over Auckland in their ITM Cup semi-final at AMI Stadium
Canterbury will contest their sixth successive ITM Cup final, they’ve won five in a row, while for Auckland it was another reminder that their potential finish still lacks gloss. Canterbury first five-eighths Tyler Bleyendaal scored 26 points from a try, six conversions and three penalty goals and posted his century of points for the season in the process.
Canterbury’s ability to quickly latch onto opportunities was symptomatic of play-offs confidence as they relished being back at something like full strength after their heavy 19-39 loss to Auckland in regular season play.
Having gone to half-time leading 25-19, Canterbury hammered home their advantage with a superbly created set piece try which saw second five-eighths Ryan Crotty take a classic outside break to leave Auckland centre Malakai Fekitoa stranded to open up space for flying fullback Johnny McNicholl.
He charge to the line and from the ruck skipper and flanker George Whitelock picked up the ball to score.
Canterbury’s traditional continuity fully stretched with McNicholl and wing Patrick Osborne able to run rampant, the Auckland defence but much of that was made possible by a powerful scrum where props Nepo Laulala and Joe Moody were in destructive mode – something Laulala built on around the field.
When Auckland did get back into the game, after uncharacteristic Canterbury errors – a crooked lineout throw and a misalignment in midfield – allowing 18-year wing Vince Aso to sidestep over for a try, Canterbury seemed to take umbrage and stormed back on the attack.
They forced Auckland to concede a penalty which Bleyendaal goaled in the 58th minute and then after an Auckland turnover from the re-start, Bleyendaal took the ball at speed, raced into space and fed replacement No.8 Jordan Taufua who showed in scoring that Canterbury lost nothing when he replaced Manu.
As Auckland’s competitive fires dwindled, Canterbury reinforced their advantage with Crotty scoring from a scrum.
Auckland took an early lead but Canterbury struck back with a typically organised try.
It was built on patient lead-up work, interchange of passing and maximisation of opportunity for Bleyendaal to cross for the try and add the conversion after 15 minutes to negate the two penalty goals landed earlier by his Auckland opposite Simon Hickey.Canterbury’s scrum was a powerful unit, twice shoving Auckland off their own ball in the first quarter, but their failure to clear ball efficiently in the 20th minute allowed Auckland flanker Luke Braid to grab the ball and charge down the flank. From the ruck second five-eighths Hadleigh Parkes took the ball to the line and slipped a pass to Hickey who raced in beneath the posts.
Penalty goals were exchanged before Auckland were exposed down their right flank after fine work by dangerous wing Patrick Osborne with support from fullback Johnny McNicholl which created wide open space for halfback Andy Ellis to score the second for his side.
Scrum power was to the fore four minutes later in the 37th minute when Ellis ran the blindside and passed to No.8 Nasi Manu who was uncovered, and untroubled, to score.