Slick Canterbury outfit put Auckland to sword
New season, same hunger. That was the message from Canterbury as they thrashed Auckland 48-9 in their National Provincial Championship match in Christchurch today.
Given their limited build-up and the loss of old heads like former captain George Whitelock, Corey Flynn and Andy Ellis there was a belief in Christchurch that the Cantabs might take a while to knock the rust off their game at AMI Stadium.
Wrong. This bonus-point victory confirms they want to remain true to their mantra of not just defending their title but using their attack to pulverise any other province attempting to steal their crown.
Canterbury didn't bother trying to ease their way into the season as they ran in five tries against one of their most respected foes; although they scored off a lineout drive, allowing Matt Todd to celebrate his 50th match with a five-pointer, it was their desire to keep shifting the ball wide that kept providing the gold and many of their raids were inspired by electric halfback Willi Heinz.
It was Heinz who was always looking to take quick penalty taps to keep the Aucklanders guessing and a blistering run created the final try for big right wing Patrick Osborne on the hooter.
Left wing Johnny McNicholl snaffled the bonus-point try - his second of the game - soon after the halftime break; this followed a sloppy lineout throw by Auckland on their line and some very weak defence on their left-hand fringe.
A yellow card to No 8 Peter Saili, who refused to cough-up the ball when pressured on his own line, reduced the Aucklanders to 14 men in the second half and seconds later Todd plunged across for his try to give the bumper crowd of 14,000 fans something else to cheer about.
Trying to get a gauge on Auckland's game plan for much of the match was a complex exercise; a paucity of ball and field position inside the attack zones inside the Canterbury half meant the big cannons in the backline - men like Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, George Moala and Lolagai Visinia (who later retired with a leg injury) - rarely had to dip into their supplies of gun power and birdshot.
Auckland's line breaks may have been rare but the Cantabrians had no such issues as remained true to their code of keeping the ball alive by popping passes in the tackle and attacking the channels on both sides of the park.
While not adventurous enough to take the headless chook approach by running the ball at all costs, Canterbury picked their moments well and anything outside their own 40m line was fair game.
Lock Joel Everson, centre Adam Whitelock and McNicholl scored in the first half, the latter two tries both long-range efforts.
Fullback Richie Mo'unga, who had to bow to seniority and allow the more experienced Tyler Bleyendaal to wear the No 10 jersey, was involved several times in Whitelock's try and second five-eighth Tom Taylor can take the credit for McNicholl's five-pointer after exposing as weak seam in the Auckland defence with an explosive run which left lock Jack Whetton searching for a fourth gear that didn't exist.
Taylor was also a major contributor with the boot, kicking all six of his shots at goal to contribute 14 points, before being assisted from the park in the 52nd minute as he nursed what appeared to be an injury near his right eye.
Canterbury 48 (Johnny McNicholl 2, Joel Everson, Adam Whitelock, Matt Todd, Patrick Osborne tries; Tyler Bleyendaal con, Richie Mo'unga con, Tom Taylor 4 cons, 2 pens) Auckland 9 (Gareth Anscombe 3 pens). HT: 27-6.