Going into last night's 46-13 win over Waikato at AMI Stadium, you would have forgiven Canterbury first five-eighth Daniel Carter for thinking of next week.
After his much-documented Achilles tendon rupture, he needed to play well in Canterbury's opening two Air New Zealand Cup matches to return his name to the All Blacks frame. Having done that, he had every right to produce a quiet performance against Waikato, to make sure he was fit for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney.
So what did he do? Only score 19 points, punt with pinpoint accuracy, run incisively, and generally make Stephen Donald feel sick that he was watching the match at home in Hamilton, rather than marking the man who will surely claim his All Blacks No10 jersey.
With Carter again unfurling his full repertoire of skills, Canterbury produced the polished, clinical performance people had been waiting for. They looked fluid from the get-go, and linebreaks, which had been so scarce against North Harbour and Auckland, seemingly came at will. And it was not like they were doing anything freakish to achieve them either.
They simply got numbers around the ball, carried it in two hands and forced Waikato to misread the play when on defence.
James Broadhurst could have scored from a clever Colin Slade crosskick, Carter almost turned a charge-down into a try, and then Kieran Read was held up in goal.
The tries had to come and they eventually did, first through Tyson Keats, then Tim Bateman, after fine lead-up work from Carter and Slade, before the latter dotted down just before halftime, after Waikato wing Tim Mikkelson made a poor defensive decision.
Waikato's woes were only compounded by flanker Jordan Smiler, who got a justified ticket to the sin bin for a high and late hit on Bateman.
The visitors had a good period after halftime and scored a deserved try through lock Romana Graham, who was immediately replaced, along with All Blacks halfback Brendon Leonard.
Stephen Brett then came on at first five-eighth, with Carter taking over from the subbed Ryan Crotty.
That prompted Canterbury to do what good teams should, having been scored against notch up a try of their own.
It came from an unlikely source though, with prop Wyatt Crockett galloping 22 metres to score under the bar and register a much-needed bonus point.
Carter's work was finally done in the 71st minute and he received a rousing and appropriate sendoff from the crowd of 9500 as he trotted off to the bench.
Sydenham beat University 23-22 in the curtain-raiser, to claim the Canterbury Plate title.
Two emerging backs on the New Zealand rugby landscape tore the heart out of Southland as Manawatu emerged surprise 25-23 winners of their Air NZ Cup match in Invercargill last night.
Fleet-footed wing Andre Taylor and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden were the heroes of a spirited Manawatu performance, scoring crucial tries early in the second half of an exciting fixture.
Taylor bagged a double, having scored the only try of a tight first half, which saw the visitors open up an 8-3 lead.
It was Southland's first loss of their campaign, following tight wins over Waikato and Otago, while Manawatu climb to the same two win-one loss record following last week's loss to Waikato.
Canterbury 46 (Tyson Keats, Colin Slade, Tim Bateman, Wyatt Crockett, Adam Whitelock tries; Dan Carter 5 pen, 2 conv, Slade conv) Waikato 13 (Romana Graham try; Callum Bruce 2 pen, conv). Halftime: 29-6.
Manawatu 25 (Andre Taylor 2, Aaron Cruden tries; Cruden pen, 2 conv, Isaac Thompson pen) Southland 23 (John Hardie, Jamie Mackintosh, Kenny Lynn tries; Robbie Robinson 2 pen, conv). Halftime: 8-3.
- The Press
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