ITM Cup: Semi Finals
Canterbury clinical, Auckland outmuscle Tasman
October 17, 2015
Wellington's Jeremy Thrush and Ardie Savea celebrate victory © Getty Images
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Wellington 34-14 Otago

Wellington will play Hawke's Bay in the ITM Cup Championship final to decide promotion to the Premiership after shutting out Otago at Westpac Stadium on Saturday. The Lions built their victory on the back of an outstanding forward effort, but their excellent handling and the steady kicking game from stand-in full-back Jackson Garden-Bachop were also key to the result.

The Lions had faded badly when the teams met previously in the round-robin, conceding two tries in the final four minutes to lose 37-36, but they did not give the Razorbacks a sniff this time around. The Lions again started strongly but this time they maintained their momentum for the full 80 minutes despite a re-jigged backline in the absence of Jason Woodward. Cory Jane moved to the wing, with Garden-Bachop stepping up to deliver an assured performance at full-back.

Reg Goodes exemplified the Wellington effort up front, the prop delivering a superb mixture of brute force and finesse when he finished a bruising charge upfield with a sublime offload for half-back Frae Wilson to score after 10 minutes.

Wellington extended their lead 10 minutes later, with Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen and Ardie Savea showing speed and skill in combining to leave second five-eighth Marvin Karawana with a clear run to the line.

Otago hit back seven minutes before the break, showing impressive patience in building phases and pressure before flanker James Lentjes burrowed over from close range to narrow Wellington's lead to 17-7 at half-time. The visitors upped their defensive intensity in the second spell, but Wellington's pack were just hitting their stride and Savea showed excellent control at the back of an attacking scrum to secure a pushover try in the 55th minute.

Garden-Bachop continued to impress with his kicking game, finishing the day with 14 points from the boot, including one effort from 40 metres that extended Wellington's lead to 27-7 with 20 minutes remaining.

The threat of another boilover loomed briefly when Adam Knight bulldozed over in the middle of an unstoppable lineout drive, Peter Breen's conversion narrowing the margin to 27-14 with five minutes remaining, but Wellington remained focused and controlled possession, and the underscored their dominance with first-five Jonny Bentley's 79th-minute try.

Canterbury's Daniel Lienert-Brown, Mitchell Drummond and Rob Thompson celebrate a try © Getty Images
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Canterbury 46 - 20 Taranaki

Canterbury dispatched defending champions Taranaki with clinical efficiency to set up an ITM Cup Premiership final against Auckland in Christchurch next weekend. Hunting their seventh title in eight years, the home team were ruthless in attacking from the first whistle, allowing Taranaki no chance to repeat the 24-21 upset win they stole in round-robin play three weeks ago.

Canterbury centre Ryan Crotty looked to have opened the scoring after two minutes, but the TMO ruled Marshall Suckling had knocked on in contesting the high ball and the try was disallowed. Taranaki also had their early chances and skipper Charlie Ngatai sliced through the Canterbury defence with a mesmerising run only for halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi to knock on with the line beckoning.

It was only in the five minutes before halftime that the game really sparked into life after Canterbury led 9-3 as Tom Taylor and Codey Rei exchanged penalties. No.8 Toa Halafihi made an initial break, then Taranaki shifted the ball wide for winger Jackson Ormond to mark his 50th game with a try in the corner.

Canterbury wasted no time in responding and second five-eighth Rob Thompson charged down Tahuriorangi's clearing kick on the 22 from point blank range to score between the posts. Another Taylor penalty gave Canterbury a 19-8 lead at halftime and the scoreline reflected their dominance at the set piece, with Taranaki struggling particularly on their own lineout throw.

Handling errors continued to plague Taranaki as they looked to attack soon after the restart. Crotty pounced on the loose ball before offloading for Suckling to sprint 60 metres and score. Although Kurt Baker hauled one back for Taranaki soon after, Canterbury were ruthless in running in further tries to Thompson - from another charge down - and Ben Funnell to lead 43-13 with less than 20 minutes remaining.

Taranaki kept running and were rewarded in the 63rd minute when referee Nick Briant ruled Johnny McNicholl had deliberately knocked down the ball as Taranaki looked set to score. Taranaki were awarded the penalty try and McNicholl was binned, but the visitors couldn't capitalise further as Canterbury controlled possession to the final whistle.

Hawkes Bay's Lewis Marshall takes a tackle © Getty Images
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Hawke's Bay 33 - 26 Bay of Plenty

Hawke's Bay produced a 20-point second-half blitz to defeat Bay of Plenty and claim hosting rights for the ITM Cup Championship final against Wellington on Friday.

Hawke's Bay were missing experienced fullback Zac Guildford, unavailable for personal reasons, but still they needed only 90 seconds to jump out to a 7-0 lead after Richard Buckman charged Nick Evemy's clearing kick.

Bay of Plenty, with only four wins from 10 games this season, were distinct underdogs but showed plenty of intent and were unlucky to be twice denied early tries by the TMO. First halfback Te Aihe Toma then former All Blacks hooker Nathan Harris crossed, only for both tries to be disallowed on review.

Flanker Johan Bardoul then took matters into his own hands, crossing three times in the space of 12 minutes to give the Steamers an 18-13 half-time lead. His first try came off a well-worked line-out drive after 25 minutes, the second followed eight minutes later when Bardoul popped up on the left wing and dotted down in the corner. The 28-year-old loosie crashed over from close range to complete his hat-trick three minutes from half-time, with Bay of Plenty ruthless in dominating the breakdown and converting turnover ball into points.

Hawke's Bay came out firing from the restart, racking up 14 unanswered points to lead 27-18 as the hour-mark approached.

Skipper Brendon O'Connor kick-started proceedings and powered over from a well-worked lineout maul, then Ihaia West jinked his way to the line and converted his own try to open out a useful lead. Bay of Plenty replacement winger Te Rangi Fraser crossed with less than five minutes remaining to put the Steamers within a converted try of forcing extra-time, but Hawke's Bay held on for the win.

Auckland's Bryce Heem takes the ball into contact, Auckland v Tasman, ITM Cup, Eden Park Auckland, October 16, 2015
Auckland's Bryce Heem takes the ball into contact © Getty Images
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Auckland 44-24 Tasman

Auckland moved into the ITM Cup Premiership final on the back of a dominant first-half performance, and they were never threatened as they moved out to a 31-3 lead midway through the second stanza at Eden Park on Friday.

Auckland's work at the breakdown played a huge role in their win, setting up both their opening tries as they raced out to a 17-0 lead with just a tick over 20 minutes on the clock. Skipper Akira Ioane was in devastating form, all power and pace down the right-hand touch as Auckland capitalised on an early turnover and ran from deep in their own half.

Up 7-0 after eight minutes, Auckland continued to control possession and territory, their powerful loosies running hard at Tasman's inside backs and making easy ground. Simon Hickey added a penalty, then winger Ben Lam crossed for Auckland's second try after Charles Piutau kicked in behind Tasman's defence and the ball bounced kindly for Lam to touch down.

Tasman's best chances came from an attacking lineout with less than two minutes on the clock until half-time, but Auckland's defence proved equal and Ioane snaffled a key turnover as the siren sounded and Lam kicked to touch for the home team to take a 20-3 lead into the break.

Both teams struggled for fluency and accuracy after the restart, but Auckland regathered first. Bryce Heem added another try to the four he has scored in the previous two games, and full-back Melani Nanai crossed to extend Auckland's lead to 34-3 after 53 minutes.

Tasman, runners-up last year, hit back three minutes later, centre Kieron Fonotia's try sparking a 10-minute burst in which Trent Renata and lock Alex Ainley both also crossed to narrow Auckland's lead to 37-24, but the result was never really in doubt and second five-eighth George Moala crossed for his 10th try of the season with three minutes remaining to ice the result

© AAP

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