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Auckland lifts shield from Canterbury

Photosport

Sportal.co.nz     30 Sep 2007     Photosport

As well as securing the shield for the summer, Auckland confirmed its top placing on the Air New Zealand Cup rugby standings, ensuring it will have home ground advantage for the play-off games.

Although both teams scored two tries, there was no doubt Auckland's ascendancy, its big pack using its physical advantage to bullock and bruise Canterbury in the forward clashes and the visiting backs were just as punishing, driving into the tackles with Auckland captain and second five-eighths, Sam Tuitupou, leading the way in his 50th match.

And while Auckland finished on top in the forward battle, it also conceded nothing to the Canterbury backs, Auckland first five-eighths Isa Nacewa being a dominant figure.

Canterbury attacked relentlessly in the opening exchanges and kept Auckland camped in its territory. Had lock Michael Paterson off-loaded to an unmarked man the holder would have scored in the fourth minute.

But Auckland's first sortie into Canterbury’s half, initiated by a sharp break by Nacewa, who beat marker Stephen Brett, brought instant success when Canterbury conceded a penalty for slowing down play and Nacewa kicked the goal.

The reply was quick, Canterbury scoring almost from the kick-off when Brett weaved his way through the defence to set up fullback Scott Hamilton for the first try in the 11th minute. Brett converted from in front.

An Auckland lineout steal almost led to a try by No.8 Jerome Kaino, who was pulled down centimeters short, but from the resulting five-metre scrum Auckland received a penalty which Nacewa converted to have Canterbury ahead, 7-6, after 18 minutes.

Both teams went close to scoring as the game continued at a furious pace, desperate defence protecting both goal-lines and Nacewa losing the ball in a tackle three metres from the line.

But the physical aggression of the Auckland pack took toll on the Canterbury defence and in the 33rd minute fullback Brent Ward forced his way over after a series of powerful thrusts by the forwards. Nacewa converted to put Auckland in front, 13-7.

Brett his the upright with a 42m penalty attempt in the 37th minute and a long kick through by Brett almost brought a try when Ward just beat Rico Gear to the ball a roll from the line. From the five-metre scrum Canterbury received a penalty which Brett converted to close the gap to 13-10 at half-time.

Auckland made a dream start to the second half, Brett getting caught inside his own 22m and turning the ball over for Auckland to score in the 42nd minute after Ward dashed between two Canterbury forwards. Nacewa's conversion had his team ahead, 20-10.

Canterbury captain Corey Flynn was sin-binned for stomping in the 50th minute with Nacewa kicking the angled penalty goal.

Canterbury's woes increased in the 58th minute when Gear was flattened in a driving tackle by his opposite wing, Benson Stanley, but he stayed on after receiving treatment.

Brett hit an upright for the second time with a penalty kick in the 61st minute, a further sign it was not Canterbury's night.

When Nacewa kicked his fourth penalty goal in the 76th minute to extend the lead to 16 points, the Canterbury crowd started to flow towards the exits and many would have missed flanker Hayden Hopgood score a late Canterbury try after Mose Tuiali'i made a great run down the sideline.

Scorers: Auckland 26 (Brent Ward 2 tries; Isa Nacewa 2 con, 4 pen) Canterbury 15 (Scott Hamilton, Hayden Hopgood tries; Stephen Brett con, pen). HT: 13-10.