Canterbury vs Bay of Plenty
Jade Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Paddy Obrien
Score: Can 72 - BOP 3
With LooseUnit and Brendon talking up BOP chances of taking the shield off an under-strength Canterbury team (7 players away on AB duty and co-captain Gibson out with a groin injury) it was with a little trepidation that SG and I went along to Jade Stadium on Friday night to support our beloved Red 'n Blacks.
From the kickoff our fears looked to be legitimate, we were a bit late getting to the ground and the game kicked off as we headed for our seats in the DB southern stand. As we hurried around to the stairs all we could see on the field was the Bay mounting a very promising attack into the Canterbury 22, an attack that could well have resulted in a confidence boosting start for the challenger.
As it turned out the Canterbury defence held solid and was able to force a mistake from the BOP team and relieve the pressure.
This was pretty much how every offensive raid that BOP mounted ended (and they had their fair share), they started promisingly but the aggressive Canterbury defence invariably forced their opposition into panicky play, hurrying their passes and ultimately turning it over.
In contrast the BOP defence didn't really pressure Canterbury much at all. They didn't seem to contest the set pieces and breakdowns very hard and they gave the Canterbury backline acres of space to pull of some very slick backline moves, most of which resulted in a Canterbury try.
As the scoreboard on the big screen shows in the end (see the photo below) Canterbury ran in 10 tries to none, with BOP's only points coming from a concilliatory penalty right on half time after then had failed repeatedly to breach the Canterbury line.
The tries were shared around nicely amongst the Canterbury backs. Wingers Afato So'oalo and Marika Vunibaka celebrated their return from injury with five tries between them (Afato got the hat-trick), Nathan Mauger (who had moved into 2nd-five with the injury to Gibson) got two, and Ben Blair, Caleb Ralph, and Joe Maddock got one each.
Ralph's try was no doubt a bittersweet end to the game, with the former BOP standout pouncing on a loose ball after a last ditch attack by BOP on fulltime to sprint 50 metres for the final try.
The entire Canterbury team played like a well oiled machine, but the stand-out players for me included Scott Robertson at No 8, who was typically uncomprimising on defence but totally devastating on attack, and Afato So'oalo, who snuffed out a couple of BOP raids down the flank and was clinical in running in his hat-trick of tries.
If I hadn't seen the BOP win over Wellington three weeks ago and known how closely they played Auckland I would have said that based on this performance they totally out of place in division one. The reality is that this shield challenge was very comparable to the first four of the season, all of which were easy wins for the holders against second and third division opposition.
Hopefully they can bounce back from what must be a devastating loss and prove that they are worthy of a place in the top tier, they will be disappointed if the end the season on 5 competition points.
For Canterbury it was an outstanding effort and sets us up very well for a serious run at the semis again, although it's too soon to get serious about that given they haven't played any of the other top 4 teams yet. In any case with everyone playing so well tonight it will be very interesting to see how the coaches integrate the All Blacks into the lineup.
Check out the photos I took here:
|The view from the DB Southern Stand, with the new stand under development on the left. Not too shabby on the whole!
|Mauger and Jackson argue over who is going to pick up the ball-cleaning cloth before play can restart.
|BOP just can't break through the Canterbury defence and regroup to survey their options.
|With half-time overdue on the clock, Jackson takes the penalty. 25-3 is better than 25-0 at least.
|The second-half onslaught has the BOP team demoralised. The after-math of one of the 7 second half tries.
|Caleb canters in to bring up the 70 points and close out the match.
|The security guard decides that it's safe to put the Shield back in the cupboard for another week!
|The Big Screen tells the one-sided story
|And you can bet that the attitude in these post-match huddles is as different as the score line!