NPC / Ranfurly Shield : Waikato 18 Canterbury 26 : match report
by Huw Turner
September 23, 2000

Waikato's three-year, 21 match tenure of the Ranfurly Shield came to an end in Hamilton this afternoon, Canterbury taking the Shield for the tenth time in their history.

This was a pulsating match, played in a frenzied, test match atmosphere. Hard as the holders tried to extend their winning sequence, and at times they threw everything at the Cantabrians, they just could not breach their famed defence when it mattered most.

Canterbury always had too much composure, too much experience of playing big matches in hostile circumstances, and in the likes of Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Todd Blackadder and Norm Maxwell they had players who thrive in these conditions.They built their momentum throughout , initially taking advantage of Waikato mistakes before taking a grip in the second half which Waikato simply could not break.

Blackadder and Maxwell dominated in the lineout, frequently stealing possession on the Waikato throw to frustrate the holders' desire to establish their own relentless rhythms.Both All Black locks were also ubiquitous in the loose , where Robertson, Thorne and Broomhall were also destructive and creative. Marshall and Mehrtens controlled tactics with the weight of possession they were receiving, the fly half also standing out with his darting runs and aggressive tackling. Gibson and Robinson
were solid in defence and always looking for the gaps. Vunibaka and Ralph were always dangerous out wide and full back Blair confirmed his potential at the highest level. His goal kicking was immaculate and his fielding of the high ball and counter attacking eye-catching.

Waikato will be desperately disappointed, but in truth undermined their game plan with a succession of errors which their opponents readily seized upon. Lock Royce Willis had another superb game, but too often his fellow forwards were under so much pressure that they found themselves consistently on the back foot.Skipper Muir led with courage and young hooker Coleman was lively in the loose. An early injury to flanker Marty Holah caused back row disruption, although replacement Clark McLeod had a fine game.

Blair and Jackson swapped penalties before Waikato winger Roger Randle got the first try. Coming off his wing , he burst onto the ball on the left after a series of forward drives had created the momentum and thrown the Canterbury defence into disarray.Jackson's conversion and a further penalty gave the holders a handy 13-6 lead after half an hour.

But Canterbury are never that easily unsettled and they came storming back. Vunibaka slipped past Reihana on the right , made good ground before chipping ahead. Duggan, covering , expected the ball to roll over the line so that he could touch down. Instead, it broke away from him and the advancing Vunibaka was able to scoop up the loose ball to score.Blair's conversion, and third penalty, gave Canterbury a narrow, but deserved , half time lead of 16-13, a lead they were not to relinquish.

Waikato had to attack, but they could find no way through, Mehrtens content to pen them deep in their own territory when the opportunity arose.Blair's fourth penalty, after six minutes of the second half, created the sense that the Super 12 champions had established an advantage they were unlikely to relinquish. The killer blow came with 11 minutes remaining.Ralph, catching a Duggan kick ahead, countered and found replacement Mayerhofler in support.He surged through the defence, fed Robinson who found Blackadder at his elbow. He transferred to Marshall who scored beneath the posts.

Waikato threw everything into a desperate last eight minutes. They were rewarded when Lowen scored on the left, but they had left themselves with too much to do and not enough time.

So Canterbury march on, their first Ranfurly Shield coming against Otago next weekend, their home semi assured. Waikato have enjoyed a wonderful tenure but with Auckland the visitors next week may struggle to pick themselves up to push for a top four finish.

Scorers :

Waikato : 18

Tries : Randle, Lowen. Conversion : Jackson. Penalties : Jackson (2)

Canterbury : 26

Tries : Vunibaka, Marshall . Conversions : Blair (2). Penalties : Blair (4)

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