Rampant Canterbury trounce Northland
The Drive for Five is very much on track after Canterbury cracked the half-century barrier for the third match on the bounce with four late tries against the nuggety Northlanders.
Tabai Matson's team are now joint log leaders after taming the Taniwha 56-11 in Whangarei tonight after embellishing the margin with touchdowns by Wyatt Crockett, Adam Whitelock, Willi Heinz and Codie Taylor in the final 10 minutes.
Canterbury have now racked up 192 points in their last three matches as they zero in on an unprecedented fifth consecutive championship crown.
Fullback Johnny McNicholl nailed his eighth try of the season to lead the individual charts and goalkicker extraordinaire Tom Taylor brought up his century of points.
With just two battles with the Bays (Hawke's Bay in Napier on Wednesday) and Bay of Plenty at AMI Stadium tomorrow week), Canterbury - who now share the premiership lead with Wellington - should secure a home semifinal.
Northland captain Rene Ranger lamented the Taniwhas' turnover rate but credit Northland for taking Canterbury for slowing down the visitors' momentum in the third quarter.
Canterbury's skipper and try-scorer George Whitelock said the "first 60 [minutes] wasn't pretty'' with too many errors and dropped ball. But in a classic understatement, he said: "We got the reward in the last 15''.
There was much to admire in Canterbury's policy to give the ball air. The continuity play between backs and forwards was sublime with five-eighths Tyler Bleyendaal and Taylor pulling the strings smartly, especially in the first half, and McNicholl and Robbie Fruean bristling for action.
Any NPC pack with Todd, George Whitelock and Nasi Manu in the back row and Wyatt Crockett at prop should almost start with a handicap. Todd was a terrier in the loose, quickly wrapping up opposition ball carriers.
Their dominance at the breakdown provided some early opportunities before left wing Telusa Veianu opened Canterbury's account after eight minutes.
Ash Moeke replied with a penalty for Northland who tested the Canterbury defence with strong running by skipper Rene Ranger and stocky halfback Sami Fisilau.
But the Canterbury line held firm and George Whitelock extended the lead, swooping on a loose ball to score.
Canterbury's best try of the first spell came from a set move after a lineout in the 36th minute after the ball was spread swiftly along the backline for McNicholl to jink by wing Mateo Malupo on the outside for a 22-6 halftime lead.
But Northland dominated territory in the third quarter with Canterbury restricted to two Taylor penalties. Ranger scored a captain's knock try after slipping Fruean, his marker.
Andy Ellis came to Canterbury's rescue, knocking the ball from Ross Wright's grasp as the beefy prop lunged for the line.
Adam Whitelock was bundled out in the corner by Northland's cover defence but Crockett crashed over for his fourth try of the season to spark the final flurry.
- © Fairfax NZ News