Air New Zealand Cup - Round 9 Review
Canterbury see off spirited Northland
September 25, 2009

Northland threatened one of the great Ranfurly Shield heists before a scratchy Canterbury prevailed 31-21 in Christchurch on Saturday. The scores were locked together 21-21 with 15 minutes remaining before winger Sean Maitland's second try denied a famous upset and ensured the hosts remain top of the Air New Zealand Cup.

While they never led, Northland were within range for most of a surprisingly-even match against opponents who tried to play at pace but lacked the fluency of recent weeks and were pinned back by referee Bryce Lawrence, particularly at the breakdown. Northland flanker Joel McKenty's name would have been inscribed in Shield folklore if his side had won after barging over for their two tries late in the first half.

Canterbury led 13-3 before then but were shaky at 16-15 when the halftime whistle blew, suddenly aware they were in for a difficult afternoon. Maitland snared an opportunist try a minute after halftime, taking a quick throw-in when a Northland drop-out sailed out on the full. The Northland defenders were half asleep as Maitland linked with fullback Colin Slade to score in the right corner.

However, winger Lachie Munro - the usual first five-eighth playing out of position because of a backline reshuffle - slotted two penalties to bring his side level. An upset loomed as Canterbury became frustrated by Lawrence's rulings although they often had themselves to blame for not getting numbers to the tackled player.

Maitland's decisive try was followed by a dropped goal two minutes from time by Stephen Brett, giving the Canterbury fly-half 16 points in a six-from-eight goal-kicking display.

Auckland look bound for another moderate placing in this year's championship after succumbing 12-8 to Tasman in Nelson on Sunday. In a classic David-overcomes-Goliath scenario, the score-line actually flattered Auckland, a union that has dominated the history of the national provincial championships but whose reputation is starting to take a battering.

With four rounds remaining Auckland are seventh but, following last week's limp loss to North Harbour, are sinking fast and threatening to finish near their placing of last year, 11th. Playing with a strong wind at their back, Auckland conceded a costly try to Tasman captain Andrew Goodman soon before halftime to trail 3-7.

The hosts bagged their second soon after the break to winger Blair Cook, taking advantage of a non-existent blindside defence. They remained 12-3 up for much of the remainder before Auckland's reserve hooker Pat Leafa handed them a glimmer of hope, scoring off a sizzling break by winger Atieli Pakalani with five minutes remaining.

Earlier, 16 unanswered second-half points gave Otago a 26-17 victory over third-placed Bay of Plenty in Dunedin on Saturday. Down 10-17 at half-time after struggling to get any sort of consistent ball, Otago upped the intensity in the second spell, their work at the breakdown laying the base for an upset win.

Both teams started strongly, but Otago struck early. Fly-half Glenn Dickson ran strongly when he found himself in space as the Bay of Plenty defensive line was slow to regroup. He found Eben Joubert on his shoulder, who in turn linked with Ben Smith for the fullback to score after just five minutes.

It didn't take long for Bay of Plenty to reply, as they followed up a Mike Delany penalty with an opportunist try to lock Culum Retallick after captain Colin Bourke took a quick tap just 10 metres out. A second Bay of Plenty try to flanker Luke Braid half-time, duly converted by Delany, gave Bay of Plenty a solid if unspectacular lead.

But Otago came back fighting in the second-half, Smith picking up his second try of the match with some impressive footballing skills in controlling the ball after Dickson toed it ahead.

Bay of Plenty seemed to lose composure and their case wasn't helped when Braid was yellow carded with just over 15 minutes to go for a dangerous tackle on centre Brett Mather. The win will provide a huge boost in confidence for Otago, who move three places up the table and will now be targeting a win over Taranaki in New Plymouth next Saturday.

Manawatu came within a whisker of spoiling a special occasion for Hawke's Bay before the hosts emerged 35-30 winners of a rousing game in Napier. In a match where the lead changed hands seven times, Hawke's Bay eventually sealed it five minutes from the end when star winger Zac Guildford plunged over for his third try.

It was the team's fourth, providing them with a bonus point win which maintains their charge for a semi-final berth. They are guaranteed to at least hold onto fourth place by the end of week nine.While it was Hawke's Bay's third straight win, an injury-plagued Manawatu slumped to a fifth successive defeat to virtually end their playoff hopes.

Yet they could easily have ruined the party at McLean Park, where a large crowd were on hand for the game which marked the 125th anniversary for the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union. They led 14-3 inside 18 minutes through early tries to No.8 Brent Thompson and centre Tomasi Cama.

They trailed 14-18 at halftime but were in front at various stages in the second spell through some sharp goal-kicking from Isaac Thompson and their third and final try by fullback Kurt Baker - a superb chip-chase effort to beat opposite Israel Dagg.

It was a double inside two minutes to in-form winger Guildford that got the wheels rolling midway through the first half on a difficult night for Hawke's Bay. Aside from impressive rolling mauls, the Hawke's Bay pack struggled for control up front against opponents missing several key players with injury.

Prop Sona Taumalolo burrowed over midway through the second half before Guildford had the final say with his eighth try of the season, the youngster who is bound for the Crusaders next year sending yet another message to the All Blacks selectors.

Clever kicking by Daniel Kirkpatrick helped guide Wellington to a 32-13 win over Southland at Westpac Stadium on Thursday that lifted them back into the semi-final picture.

Astute kicking became increasingly important in the difficult, slippery conditions and Kirkpatrick was up to the task as Wellington ignored the form book to inflict just Southland's second loss of the season.

His nicely weighted chip inside the Southland 22 was pounced on by replacement back Fa'atonu Fili in the 53rd minute and just nine minutes later Kirkpatrick set up another try, this time to Apoua Stewart. Kirkpatrick kicked high to the right-hand touch where Stewart hauled in the ball before stepping past a diving Robbie Robinson to score and give the home side a decisive 25-13 lead.

Between these two touchdowns Southland had one of their own when lock Joe Tuineau found himself in the right place at the right time after a half break from Robinson. Robinson snuck through a gap only to see his offload deflect off a Wellington defender. But Tuineau got his boot to the loose ball first, then followed up to score.

Southland were given a hand late in the piece when Wellington prop Anthony Perenise was sin-binned by English referee Wayne Barnes for a deliberate foot trip, leaving the home side a man down for the last seven minutes. But they were unable to make their numerical advantage count and instead conceded a bonus-point try when Wellington wing David Smith snaffled an intercept shortly before the finish.

It was an invaluable win for Wellington, who had threatened to drop off the competition pace after losing three of their previous four matches. A canny try to Wellington lock Daniel Ramsay proved the difference between the teams at halftime when the home side led 13-3.

Waikato survived a mid-table arm wrestle to beat Taranaki 15-14 in New Plymouth on Friday. Entering the ninth round match in eighth position, the result kept alive Waikato's semi-finals hopes after an absorbing, physical tussle between two evenly matched sides.

Opportunities were few and far between for both sides and at the end dropped goals became the preferred points scoring mode. Taranaki fly-half Willie Ripia read the situation well five minutes from full-time when his dropped goal from 30m edged his side ahead 14-12 only for his Waikato opposite Trent Renata to do likewise from similar range 3min later as the visitors snuck their noses in front.

Renata's matchwinner came after referee Kane McBride awarded a free kick against Taranaki halfback Brett Goodin for delaying a scrum feed near the home side's 22. Waikato took their chance, controlled possession and fed Renata, who calmly slotted his attempt.

Waikato had been kept in the contest by goalkicking second five-eighth Callum Bruce, who landed his fourth penalty in the 56th minute for his team to hit the front for the first time 12-11.

Elsewhere on Friday, 14-man North Harbour pulled clear late to beat 28-19 in a bottom-of-the-table clash. Centre Andrew Mailei was shown the first red card of the competition just 22 minutes into a messy contest at North Harbour Stadium. He was marched for a lifting tackle on centre Dean Cummins which was deemed dangerous by referee Keith Brown.

His team-mates made up for their numerical shortage with a gutsy display in wet conditions that meant the match would never shine as a spectacle. Both teams scored three tries but North Harbour were deserved winners, dominating the set pieces and territory, allowing impressive fly-half Mike Harris to slot 13 points with the boot.

They were up 6-5 before the game came to life in the final 20 minutes, when five of the six tries were scored. The last one went to North Harbour flanker Tom Chamberlain, the game's standout player, set up by a burst from winger Anthony Tuitavake.

It was a rare bright point in a game dominated by kicking, close forward exchanges and a high error error count befitting two teams wallowing at the bottom of the table, with both teams entering the contest on two wins from eight. Counties-Manukau will remain 14th and firm as favourites for the wooden spoon while North Harbour should improve from 13th by the end of the weekend.


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