Canterbury (and fans) show their colours

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012
Paea Fa'anunu
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HARD TO STOP: Paea Fa'anunu on the charge for Canterbury.

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OPINION: It takes a trip to Christchurch every now and then to remind oneself of just how one-eyed those red and black supporters really are.

That's not a criticism, their place in New Zealand rugby is treasured, given just how conservative a nation we are when it comes to letting our feelings be known at sports grounds.

The officials, opposition players and even travelling fans get their pedigree well and truly spelt out to them.

The weekend for Taranaki rugby fans centred on what was going to happen at AMI Stadium, a temporary ground erected to provide a necessary distraction for those having to deal with the aftermath of 2011's devastating earthquake.

The two stands at the ground are intimately close to the action, so much so anyone sitting in them has to keep a close eye out for any kicks flying off the players' boots.

The ground has very much a feel of being temporary, with spectators having to navigate plenty of scaffolding just to get to their seats.

All that aside, it was a bit on the nose to hear so many Cantabrians dismiss Taranaki as a genuine threat of beating their four-time defending champions.

Most of the people I talked to pre-game were not bothering to even show up, preferring instead to keep their money in their wallets for next week's final.

Those who did turn up were told well before the opening whistle the arrangements for the final.

"It will be played here on Saturday," the crowd was told by ground announcer Jason Gunn.

Right then, we might as well tell the Taranaki boys not bother to coming out of the sheds and they can go straight to the after-match.

You could see why, then, the smattering of Taranaki fans in the half-empty stands wanted the upset so badly. It was so, so close to happening, too.

I would say about a yard in the old measurements - the difference between Beauden Barrett's conversion sneaking over the posts and missing.

In the end, Canterbury got home on the back of some late tries, although I'll maintain they were helped no end by some of the officiating that went on.

Playing away, you expect the home team to get the 50-50 calls, Taranaki got their share when they held the Ranfurly Shield, but some of Saturday's decisions were verging on unbelievable.

Referee Mike Fraser, someone whose ability I respect, allowed himself to be given a constant barrage of advice from veteran halfback Andy Ellis, flanker Matt Todd, prop Wyatt Crockett and captain George Whitelock.

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I don't have a problem with the latter - it's his job to question decisions - but the rest should have been simply told to go away.

Some things also don't change when it comes to Canterbury teams and that is the amount of cheating they get away with.

Early in the game Whitelock grabbed hold of Taranaki flanker Chris Walker as he attempted to leave the breakdown and join the defensive line.

Despite pleas to Fraser and his attempts to free himself, Whitelock just keep holding on.

The infringing didn't stop there, either.

Canterbury obstruct so much off the ball without ever being pulled up.

Their continued playing of the ball on the ground at the breakdown and players entering from offside and leaving their feet were a disgrace.

It cost Taranaki dearly at crucial times.

As for the game later in the evening between AIG and Qantas, the black team forgot the basics of rugby, tried million-dollar plays when they should have been banking $5 notes, building a kitty and then having a spendup at the end.

- Taranaki Daily News

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