Canterbury will look to continue on their path towards a fifth consecutive final when they face Taranaki in Saturday's ITM Cup semi-final.
Canterbury will look to continue on their path towards a fifth consecutive final when they take on Taranaki in Saturday's ITM Cup semi-final at AMI Stadium.
Not for the first time, the defending champions stumbled in the opening round (losing to Tasman) but once again improved as the season progressed to become the team to beat at the business end of New Zealand's domestic tournament.
Indeed, Canterbury are on a roll at the moment and unbeaten in their last five outings where they haven't scored less than 44 points or six tries.
Their extraodinary run saw Tabai Matson's troops finish top of the Premiership standings (39 points), with just two losses to their name. One of which was against Taranaki in Round Five when Canterbury were outmuscled by the Amber and Blacks' forwards in atrocious conditions.
It's no wonder Matson and his red and black army are relishing another crack at the former Ranfurly Shield holders.
“We're really pleased we get another go at them,” said Matson.
“We were outplayed on the day so to have another shot at them gives us an opportunity that doesn't come around very often. It's great to play them in a semi-final and we're really pumped for it.”
Indeed, a win against their visitors will put Canterbury a step closer to claiming an incredible fifth consecutive ITM Cup title with either Auckland or Wellington joining them in the final.
Taranaki have been on a downward spiral ever since losing the Shield to Waikato and the odds are stacked heavily against them causing an upset in Christchurch.
After losing the shield to Waikato, Taranaki struggled against Southland before being outplayed by Wellington in their last outing. But Matson isn't buying it.
“They're far from vulnerable,” he said.
“They've got a great roster and while they probably haven't played to their potential they, like us, will be really excited about being in a semi-final.”
History though is against Taranaki. The Amber and Blacks have never beaten Canterbury in Christchurch since the inception of the NPC in 1976. And Taranaki's last semi-final appearance was 12 years ago. The team which beat them in the play-offs? Canterbury.
Prediction: Canterbury to make it to the grand finale which means a home final for the defending champs. Canterbury to win by 10 points!
Canterbury: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Elllis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Jed Brown, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Joel Everson, 3 Paea Fa'aunu, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Matt Symons, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Telusa Veainu, 22 Stephen Gee.
Taranaki: 15 James Marshall.14 Andre Taylor, 13 Kurt Baker,12 Jayden Hayward,11 Waisake Naholo,10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Jarrad Hoeata, 7 Chris Walker, 6 James Broadhurst, 5 Jason Eaton (c), 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Michael Bent,2 Timo Tutavaha, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Laurence Corlett, 17 Carl Carmichael, 18 Nemia Soqeta, 19 Adrian Wyrill, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Seta Tamanivalu, 22 Jackson Ormond.
Date: Saturday, 20 October
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Keith Brown , Ben O'Keffe
Television match official: Doug Rodgers