NPC rugby: Canterbury show class in big win over Wellington

Cullen Grace of Canterbury scores a try in the tackle of Taine Plumtree of Wellington. Photo / Photosport

Canterbury have stamped their credentials as National Provincial Championship title favourites, making Wellington pay for their ways in Christchurch.

In a clash of provincial heavyweights, the hosts proved to be a cut above the Lions in claiming a 43-10 win.

It wasn’t as one-sided a game as the scoreline might suggest, though. Wellington had plenty of opportunities and were strong in patches, but were unable to convert – be it because of poor execution or Canterbury’s strong defensive efforts.

It was a pass intercepted by Canterbury center Dallas McLeod that proved to be the turning point, with his runaway try midway through the second half putting the pressure on the Lions and igniting the Canterbury side.

As Wellington struggled to get out of their own territory late in the game, Canterbury turned the screws. With two tries to No 8 Cullen Grace from the back of 5m scrums, the damage was done and Canterbury took home the maximum points. Willi Heinz picked off a pass for the side’s second intercept try late for good measure.

Grace was immense throughout the match as he got involved and turned over ball at the breakdown and was at his bruising best defensively. Reserve hooker George Bell also had a standout performance in his debut for the provincial side. Called into the match just eight minutes in after an injury to Brodie McAlister, the Crusaders academy player looked at home in red and black and scored the side’s first try of the match.

His opposite, Asafo Aumua, stood out for Wellington with some damaging carries, while young fullback Ruben Love had some shining moments as well. However, their execution failed them in the second half as they couldn’t register a point after the break, with Canterbury captain Billy Harmon crediting the work defense coach Matt Todd had done with the group in his post-match interview with Sky.

Earlier in the day, Waikato saw off Northland 16-10, while Otago were too good for Tasman, beating their Southern rivals 25-19.

In the Farah Palmer Cup, Canterbury continued their winning ways with another comeback victory, this time finishing over the top of Waikato to claim a 29-27 in a rematch of the last two premiership finals. It was a late try from Kendra Cocksedge that decided the match, after the side turned down a shot at goal to tie the game in favor of kicking to the corner for a chance to win it.

Canterbury had held a 19-6 lead late in the first half and things looked to be going their way, before Waikato fought back into the contest to score 14 straight points and take a one-point lead. The sides then traded tries, before Cocksedge had the final say.

Elsewhere, Otago took the double over Tasman for the day with a 39-7 win, Hawke’s Bay toppled Taranaki 45-15, Manawatū beat Wellington 38-17, while Northland saw off North Harbor 27-23.

Canterbury 43 (Cullen Grace 2, George Bell, George Bridge, Dallas McLeod, Willi Heinz tries; Fergus Burke 4 cons, pen, Alex Harford con)
Wellington 10 (Pepesana Patafilo try; Jackson Garden-Bachop con, pen)
HT: 15-10

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