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Canterbury thump Tasman 29-0 in Blenheim

Canterbury thump Tasman 29-0 in Blenheim

By Marc Hinton [Stuff]

Desperate times, desperate rugby.

That was the recipe for Canterbury in Blenheim on Saturday evening as they produced probably their best performance of the Mitre 10 Cup season to stun the Tasman Mako 29-0 and snap a three-game losing skid in the all-Premiership Crusaders derby.

The four-try, bonus-point victory, spearheaded by a turn-back-the-clock display by veteran lock Luke Romano, achieved two important outcomes for the red and blacks who came into the contest wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place with a 3-5 record and bottom spot in the Premiership standings.

Firstly, it took them off the bottom rung of the Premiership, three points clear of Bay of Plenty who visit Waikato on Sunday. The unthinkable prospect of relegation, for the first time since the provincial competition was split into two divisions, remains a possibility, but the Cantabs at least have some wriggle room now.

Secondly, the victory gives the 14-time provincial champions an outside shot at an unlikely semifinal spot, with some results likely to have to go their way in next weekend's final round.

Canterbury, now on 24 competition points, will host Auckland next Sunday in their final round-robin clash and could find themselves in the unusual position of having to win to both avoid relegation and make the semifinals. Go figure.

Tasman's third defeat of the season might prove costly as they remain anchored on 29 points, now five points adrift of Premiership pacesetters Auckland, and possibly needing to win their round-robin finale in Dunedin to secure a home semi.

It was an outstanding pressure display by the Cantabs, led by a princely effort from Romano who snaffled four lineout steals, led a cast-iron defensive display and carried strongly throughout.

He had plenty of help, with Billy Harmon strong in the loose, Reed Prinsep making a good fist of his late shift to the second row and Josh McKay and teenager Chay Fihaki the best of a dangerous visiting backline.

Canterbury midfielder Dallas McLeod carries strongly against the Tasman Mako in Blenheim.
Canterbury midfielder Dallas McLeod carries strongly against the Tasman Mako in Blenheim.

The visitors brought all the urgency, had a feast at the lineout, and dominated the key forward exchanges to suffocate the Mako with their attitude and aggression. The home side never fired a shot.

The Cantabs, with those backs to the wall, came out flying for the first 40 to produce arguably their most clinical half of the season, running in two excellent tries en route to a 17-0 lead that heaped the pressure well and truly on their hosts.

Canterbury wing Ngatungane Punivai opened the scoring in just the third minute when he was the beneficiary of, first, a couple of strong carries from Billy Harmon and Romano and, then, an outstanding cutout pass from McKay. He still had a bit of work to do down the left touchline, but was more than equal to it for the early 7-0 lead.

The home cause wasn't helped when they lost influential midfielder Alex Nankivell (to a broken hand) after just 10 minutes and with their lineout struggling throughout the first half, Canterbury's defence negating the dangerous home ball-runners and the visitors edging the breakdown battle, opportunities were few and far between for the Mako.

Then came a final 10 minutes that had the Blenheim faithful scratching their heads. The fins were most definitely down after Brett Cameron extended the visitors’ lead to 10-0 just past the half-hour mark and then Canterbury fullback McKay produced a moment of absolute magic to take that lead out to an imposing 17.

Canterbury wing Chay Fihaki goes high for the ball in the clash against Tasman in Blenheim.
Canterbury wing Chay Fihaki goes high for the ball in the clash against Tasman in Blenheim.

Nineteen-year-old wing Fihaki had fielded a clearance kick near halfway and found McKay on the pass around 42m out. The gifted fullback then unleashed a stunning run where he stepped off his left foot to create the opening, then left a trail of defenders for dead with a succession of right shimmies to score a surefire contender for try of the season.

The Cantabs more or less sealed the deal when they backed up their seven-pointer just shy of halftime with another soon after the restart – the cast-iron recipe for sporting success, they say.

It was the increasingly impressive Fihaki who struck after just five minutes, when he intercepted Kieron Fonotia's loose pass and dashed 20-odd metres for the score, and the 24-0 lead.

Isaiah Punavai, the 19-year-old brother of the opening try-scorer, then put an exclamation point on the night for the Cantabs with the bonus-point try in the 77th minute, thanks to an excellent wide pass from Cameron.

Canterbury 29 (Ngatungane Punivai, Josh McKay, Chay Fihaki, Isaiah Punavai tries; Brett Cameron pen, 3 cons) defeated Tasman 0. Ht: 17-0.

MVP points: Luke Romano 3, Josh McKay 2, Billy Harmon 1.

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