Canterbury were too strong for Manawatū in the opening NPC fixture of the season. Photo / Photosport
Canterbury have made a big statement in the opening game of the National Provincial Championship, dispatching Manawatū 62-15 in Palmerston North.
Coming into the competition as one of the favorites to take it out, the Southerners lived up to that billing in their opening performance, running in nine tries for a comfortable win.
It was a win set up largely by a strong defensive effort, as the red and blacks absorbed everything the Turbos threw at them and forced the issue at the breakdown, launching counter-attacks from turnovers and making the most of catching the Turbos scrambling.
First five-eighth Fergus Burke was heavily involved in the play, both structured or otherwise, and capped a strong performance with tries in both halves, while hooker Brodie McAlister showed he could be a contender for top try scorer, dotting down twice from the back of lineout drives in the first half.
Manawatū had their moments, with barnstorming loose forward Brayden Iose impressing with ball in hand, while Ed Fidow’s presence was felt on the left wing.
Things could have started in the worst possible fashion for the Turbos when Canterbury No 8 Cullen Grace clashed heads with a defender as he was taken in an upright tackle just 13 seconds into the game. Cards of both colors have been dished out for similar tackles at the international level in recent times, however the incident was only deemed worthy of a penalty and the teams went about their business.
Both sides were on the scoreboard inside 10 minutes after trading penalty goals, before Burke scored his first try of the night after 11 minutes to give Canterbury the edge.
Manawatū’s discipline was their undoing as the half went on, allowing Canterbury to get into terrific field position and capitalise. They did so through their lineout, scoring three times in the space of 11 minutes with McAlister scoring from the back of drives twice and George Bridge planting the ball in the corner with a Superman dive and little room to work with.
Taking a big lead into the break, Canterbury kicked on in the second half, scoring two tries on the counter-attack through Manasa Mataele and Burke.
Manawatū were able to score late consolation tries through reserve hooker Leif Keil-Schwencke and fullback Drew Wild, but by that point the match was long out of reach as Canterbury took maximum points from the opening fixture.
Saturday will see Counties Manukau host Otago and Waikato greet Hawke’s Bay, before the battle of the bridge between Auckland and North Harbor at Eden Park.
Canterbury 62 (Brodie McAlister 2, Fergus Burke 2, George Bridge 2, Chay Fihaki, Manasa Mataele, Willi Gualter tries; Burke 4 cons, pen; Alex Harford 3 cons)
Manawatu 15 (Leif Keil-Schwencke, Drew Wild tries; Brett Cameron con, pen)