Canterbury’s golden era of ITM Cup dominance is over, ended in the semi-final stages by a Tasman side that used aggressive defence to the utmost to set up a 26-6 victory at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
Tasman who went from winning promotion from the Championship section last year now find themselves in the Premiership final against Taranaki in New Plymouth next week having ended the six Championships run by their Crusaders neighbours.
The semi-finals were a triumph for country rugby – the first time a final is to be contested by two non-Super Rugby franchise bases.
After looking invincible in the first weeks of the competition, Canterbury came undone when meeting lowly North Harbour, and the complexion of their season changed entirely.
The pressure was evident in their 38-10 roundrobin loss to Tasman, and with their last chance on Saturday, they were unsettled by the relentlessness of the home team’s defensive assault – a tactic that allowed Canterbury’s backs no room to manoeuvre.
Backing that was the consistent pressure applied by flanker Shane Christie, prop Ross Geldenhuys and hooker Quentin MacDonald. Behind them was the ever-present old hand former All Black Jimmy Cowan who had a fine night.
Compounding Canterbury’s frustration was the way the likes of No.8 Liam Squire and lock Joe Wheeler attacked their lineout and the harder Canterbury tried, the more vulnerable they were to mistakes. Three times in the final quarter, Canterbury lost ball after lineout plays five metres from the Tasman line.
It summed up the frustrations of Canterbury’s night.
First five-eighths Marty Banks’ boot was again vital for his side with his first penalty goal from 50m hammering out a warning to Canterbury that he was well and truly on song. It also brought up his 150th point for the season, only the second player after Grant Fox, to achieve the feat on successive seasons. He ended with 16 points from two conversions and four penalty goals.
A stunning tackle by wing Keiron Fonotia on Canterbury hooker Ben Funnell, allowed counter-rucking to provide the ball for Tasman. Cowan kicked into the Canterbury 22m where fullback Richard Mo’unga was undone by a wicked bounce. Wing James Lowe was flying after the ball, secured it and got it down over the line for the early try in the second minute.
The Fonotia tackle was typical of several big hits made by Tasman in the early stage.
Canterbury lost captain and first choice halfback Willi Heinz who suffered a leg injury during the warm-ups and in the first quarter Tasman lost prop Tim Perry to a lower leg injury.
Tom Taylor’s attempted cross-kick just moments before half-time was marked by Lowe. He took the kick and fed fullback Robbie Malneek who hared down the touchline, beating Patrick Osborne with ease and then setting up the ruck in the Canterbury 22m area.
The ball was moved to wing Bryce Heem and Tasman kept working the ball forward and when it looked to have been held up short of the line, it squired out the back, avoiding the touchline where it was taken by Cowan. He wriggled his way through to roll over for a crucial try right on the half-time break.
Scorers: Tasman 26 (James Lowe, Jimmy Cowan tries; Marty Banks 2 con, 4 pen) Canterbury 6 ( Tom Taylor 2 pen ).