The Ranfurly Shield will be about for a third defence, when Canterbury host Northland on Saturday afternoon.
They comfortably accounted for Taranaki at AMI Stadium last night, winning 29-17. Defensively it was another fine performance from the home team, but their attack remains a work in progress.
They started with a hiss and a roar, scoring as good a set piece try as you will see, in the fourth minute.
From a scrum on Taranaki's 40-metre line the ball was shifted from Stephen Brett to Tim Bateman who, with Tu Umaga-Marshall and Casey Laulala also in motion, picked out Sean Maitland who raced untouched to score in the corner. Brett's conversion made it 7-0 and the holders were off to the races.
But a dusty defensive lineout saw the ball almost immediately turned over to Taranaki, with wing Shayne Austin sliding in to score near the opposite touch line to narrow the score to 7-5.
A Willie Ripia penalty put the visitors ahead 8-7, but from the kickoff Brett found Michael Paterson, who ran strongly and offloaded to Umaga-Marshall and he dived in beside the posts to restore leadership for Canterbury.
Things became significantly more difficult from there, as errors and the whistle of referee Jonathon White combined to shift the ascendancy in Taranaki's favour. With Ripia adding two more penalty goals, the teams went in for halftime level at 14-all.
At that point Canterbury needed to abandon the style in favour of some tactics with a bit more substance, and an offside penalty from the restart provided the perfect platform. Brett duly kicked it and Canterbury led 17-14.
The players obviously had no interest in playing the percentages, though, because they stuck to putting the ball through the hands and scored two minutes later, through James Paterson, after a repeat of the Bateman to Maitland move that worked in the first spell. At 24-14, after 44 minutes, things had quickly changed.
But not seeking field position did still seem to be keeping Taranaki in the game. Then a Brett run and grubber kick on 58 minutes was picked up by Maitland, who again scored out wide.
Like the other try-scoring efforts, there was real brilliance about it. But in between times Canterbury were guilty of trying to be a bit cute, which led to inaccuracies.
That meant that, as was the case against Otago a week ago, they won by a handy margin without ever quite showing the ruthlessness that marks champion teams from the rest.
- The Press