Canterbury secure home final

Date published: October 29 2010

Canterbury booked themselves a home ITM Cup Final next weekend after beating Wellington 57-41 in Christchurch on Friday.

Canterbury booked themselves a home ITM Cup Final next weekend after beating Wellington 57-41 in Christchurch on Friday.

Don't rub your eyes, the scoreline is correct thanks to a whopping ten tries being scored (six to Canterbury, four to Wellington), coupled with near-flawless displays from the kicking tee that saw only one missed kick on the night.

In all, 98 points were produced in a breathtaking semi-final at AMI Stadium that went down to the wire. Canterbury and Wellington – take a bow.

Slade opened the scoring in the sixth minute following concerted pressure on the Wellington defence.

However the Lions replied back almost immediately in the best possible way with a try to wing Julian Savea, who pinched a skip pass from Ryan Crotty to cruise in for the game's first try under the posts. Wellington pivot Lima Sopoaga added the extras and the visitors were in an early lead.

Canterbury regrouped quickly enough though, and didn't take long for the defending champions to bring their scarce home crowd alive after hooker Steve Fualau burrowed over from close range. Slade's conversion handed the lead back to his team (10-8).

The see-saw battle wouldn't stop there however as Lions full-back Apoua Stewart danced his way through several Canterbury defenders for a brilliant solo try that put Wellington back in front. Sopoaga's conversion extended Wellington's lead to four points over their South Island rivals (10-14).

With confidence riding high in the Lions' camp, another spirited attack by Wellington was denied and then countered by Canterbury full-back Sean Maitland who exposed a gapping hole in the visitors' defence to gallop 60m for a splended five-pointer. Maitland's try put Canterbury back in front, while Slade's touchline conversion increased the hosts' lead a wee bit more (17-14).

The floodgate of tries took a backseat for a few minutes while Slade and Sopoaga exchanged penalty kicks between them, but the fifth try of the first half was scored in the 26 minute thanks to some Robbie Fruean magic.

Fruean put in a man-of-the-match performance for Canterbury, and certainly proved that All Blacks coach Graham Henry was wrong to leave him out of the national side's touring squad. But the All Blacks' loss was Canterbury's gain as their inspiring centre sliced open the Wellington defence like a hot knife through butter for his team's third try.

Slade was never going to miss from bang in front and the red and blacks looked a lot more comfortable with a 27-17 lead.

The Lions weren't prepared to roll over so easily though, and clawed their way back into the game thanks to two Sopoaga penalties – the one bouncing off the crossbar to close the gap to just four points (27-23) with eight minutes of the half remaining.

But another piece of Fruean brilliance along the sideline ended with wing Telusa Veainu strolling over for Canterbury's fourth try of the match. Slade kept his 100 per cent kicking record intact with the conversion, but it was Wellington who had the final say of the first half – Sopoaga banging over his sixth successful goal for the Lions.

With the half-time score reading 34-26 in favour of Canterbury, the second half had a lot to live up to after a whopping 60 points were produced in the opening 40 minutes alone. It's just a shame a half-empty stadium were lucky enough to see it.

It took fifteen minutes for the first points to arrive in the second half – Slade nailing a monster penalty attempt to open up an eleven-point buffer.

However, the gap was reduced yet again after unwanted All Black Victor Vito scampered over for a crucial score for Wellington. Sopoaga was unable to add the extras, his first missed kick of the night, but the Lions were back in the hunt (37-31).

The Canterbury crowd would have been relieved after Lions prop John Schwalger was denied a try under the posts by the TMO, but the home fans grew anxious following another Sopoaga penalty that took the scores to 37-34. At this point, it was still anyone's for the taking.

That was until Slade banged over two more three-pointers to give Canterbury some much-needed breathing space (43-34).

The way this semi-final was being played, it was almost expected for Wellington to bounce back and they didn't disappoint. A break-out from Vito, and stab through by Sopoaga forced a 5m scrum after Tu Umaga-Marshall was carried over his own tryline.

The Lions huffed and puffed, until scrum-half TJ Perenara blew the game wide open once again after darting over for Wellington's fourth try. Sopoaga made it a two-point ball-game (43-41), which set up a nail-biting finish to a thrilling semi-final clash.

However, Canterbury showed just why they are two-time defending champions and killed off any chance Wellington had of staging an upset by crossing over for two tries in three minutes that sealed them a home final next Friday.

A superb kick to the corner by Stephen Brett with four minutes to play set up a try to lock Isaac Ross, with Slade kicking his tenth straight goal from wide out. And then it was Veainu who crossed over for his second to give the home an ultimately comfortable winning margin.

After the siren went Wellington captain Neemia Tialata ploughed over, but was penalised for a double movement and Canterbury gratefully kicked to touch to end the high-scoring match.

The scorers:

For Canterbury:
Tries: Fualau, Maitland, Fruean, Veainu 2, Ross
Cons: Slade 6
Pens: Slade 5

For Wellington:
Tries: Savea, Stewart, Vito, Perenara
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 5

Canterbury: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Ash Parker, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Steve Fualau, 1 Wyatt Crockett (c).
Replacements: 16 Paul Ngauamo, 17 Andrew Olorenshaw, 18 Rob Verbakel, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Takerei Norton, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Sam Monaghan.

Wellington: 15 Apoua Stewart, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Tajhon Mailata, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Api Naikatini, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Dane Coles, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Reg Goodes, 18 Brad Shields, 19 Dean Brunsdon, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Fa'atonu Fili, 22 Charles Ngatai.

Referee: Keith Brown

By Dave Morris