By Robert van Royen [Stuff]
Canterbury have breathed life into their national provincial campaign with a tense win over reigning champions Tasman.
Dallas McLeod’s 75th minute try powered the red and blacks to an upset 24-20 win over the Mako in Christchurch on Friday night.
It snapped a three-match losing streak, improved their record to 4-4, and at least temporarily shot them into third on the ladder with a round to play.
Talk about a big sigh of relief for under pressure co-coaches Reuben Thorne and Mark Brown, who must have been pulling their hair out when their side trailed 20-7 after 56 minutes.
But veteran lock Luke Romano dashed down the short side and scored from what was either a lineout move gone wrong, or a savvy piece of deception, before Fergus Burke slotted a penalty to make it a three point game with 15 minutes to play.
With halfback Mitchell Drummond back from a hamstring injury and driving their game, Canterbury got a sniff and setup camp inside Tasman’s 22, leading to McLeod scampering over.
Canterbury celebrate Fergus Burke's early try against Tasman in Christchurch on Friday night.
The Mako launched a last-ditch lineout drive on Canterbury's line, but could not crack the hosts before a jubilant Drummond booted the ball into touch, leaving Tasman facing a must-win match against Wellington next week.
Canterbury outscored Tasman three tries to one, but five Mitch Hunt penalty goals looked set to doom them before their strong finish.
As has been the case on numerous occasions this season, Canterbury were their own worst enemy.
Fergus Burke scores against Tasman in Christchurch on Friday night.
They failed to take advantage of two Tasman yellow cards, conceded multiple free kicks for going early at the scrum, turned the ball over 25 times in the first 60 minutes alone, and their discipline was well below par.
Referee Tipene Cottrell pinged them a whopping 15 times, many of them inside Hunt's range. Canterbury were just fortunate Tasman didn't always point to the sticks.
KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES
Tasman wing Timoci Tavatavanawai on the charge against Canterbury in Christchurch on Friday night.
Persistent drizzle made for tricky conditions, just the type suited to forwards such as Romano, who put in some typically brutal hits on defence.
He knocked Tasman hooker Andrew Makalio out of the game in the 20th minute with a thumping tackle, just six minutes before Canterbury counterpart Brodie McAlister departed with a fractured rib.
It was a war of attrition, a slugfest between the two Crusaders region neighbours, with Canterbury lock Sam Darry also taking a big hit and being forced out of the game in the first half.
Neither team strung more than seven phases together in the wet in the opening 40 minutes, with Burke accounting for the only try.
He scooted over in the sixth minute after selling a dummy, shortly after the hosts uncorked a lineout drive and barely came up short.
KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES
Tasman wing Leicester Fainga’anuku was yellow carded for taking out Canterbury No 8 Sam Dickson in the air in Christchurch on Friday night.
But the red and blacks blew opportunities to extend their lead, particularly when the Mako were down to 13 men for five minutes due to yellow cards to wing Leicester Fainga’anuku and prop Sam Matenga.
Fainga’anuku was carded for taking out No 8 Sam Dickson in the air in the eighth minute, only for Burke to miss touch and Canterbury wing Waisake Naholo to give away a needless penalty at a ruck a moment later.
Canterbury failed to score a single point with Fainga’anuku and Matenga off, with the latter sent to the bin for dragging down a rolling maul.
Canterbury 24 (Fergus Burke, Luke Romano, Dallas McLeod tries; Burke 3 con, pen) v Tasman 20 (Quentin MacDonald try; Mitch Hunt 5 pen). HT: 7-9
STUFF MVP POINTS: Luke Romano 3, Fergus Burke 2, Chay Fihaki 1