Canterbury march into Premiership final

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Sunday, October 23, 2016    Getty Images

Counties traveled to Christchurch in a confident mood having beaten the South Islanders 33-21 eight days ago in Pukekohe.

The Steelers were further boosted by the return of halfback Augustine Pulu who rejoined the team following his midweek call up to the All Blacks’ squad for the Bledisloe Cup test.

Canterbury, who have made eight of the competitions previous nine finals, scored immediately from the kick off, forcing a ruck penalty right in front of the posts, which was easily slotted by second five-eighth (and new All Blacks squad member) Jordie Barrett.

However Counties dominated much of the first game’s first 20 minutes, with a wealth of possession inside the Canterbury 22.

Twice the Steelers came close to scoring off the back of a dominant scrum; No.8 Sootala Fa’aso’o was judged to have been held up over the line in a Richie Mo’unga tackle, before second five-eighth Cardiff Vaega dropped the ball while attempting to score from the resulting scrum.

The inability to finish was punished by the defending champions who worked their way back into the game and scored the first try of the match to Ben Funnell. 

The hooker crashed over following a period of sustained pressure near the Counties goal line.

Despite being held up over the line twice themselves, Canterbury kept calm and strung 12 phases together in the lead up to Funnell’s 22nd minute try.
Funnell was back in the action almost immediately. 

A desperate tackle by the Canterbury rake denied his opposite number, Hika Elliot, from scoring, as Counties threatened from the restart.

The try line play set the tone for the rest of the half as Canterbury harried and bullied Counties off the ball and began to dominant the break down and set piece.

The Canterbury backs were under utilised for much of the half, but three minutes before the break they landed the decisive blow to Counties’ hopes.

Quick ball from a turnover 30 metres out from the Counties’ line was spun wide, allowing left wing George Bridge to beat his marker, before drawing the cover defence and putting Jordie Barrett in for an unopposed run to the try line.

Barrett duly converted his own try and Canterbury took a 17-0 lead into the break.

Canterbury thought they had scored their fourth, three minutes into the second spell when open side flanker Tom Sanders crossed in the corner.

But Counties’ hopes were saved by a late referral to the television match official, who ruled Sanders had stepped on the touch line before scoring.
Counties refused to give up and, as in the first half, dominated much of the period’s opening minutes.

At one point the Steelers rolled back the years to the 1980s and used a “wall” move from a tap penalty, but were unable to crack the Canterbury defensive screen.

Canterbury’s resolute defence repelled wave after wave of Counties attacks – at one point Counties put together 14 phases within 15 metres of the Canterbury line but could not break through.

With 20 minutes to play the Steelers were offered a glimmer of hope when blindside flanker Jordan Taufua smashed his way across the line from a quick penalty tap, narrowing the deficit to 10 points. 

But in typical fashion, Canterbury closed the match out clinically, playing for territory and keeping the ball inside the Counties half.

With 12 minutes to go, the result was sealed when replacement halfback Jack Stratton pounced on a poor five metre scrum clearance from Pulu, which squirted into the Counties in goal, to score his side’s final try and take the game beyond Counties’ reach.

Canterbury 22 (Ben Funnell, Jordie Barrett, Jack Stratton tries; Barrett 2 con, pen) Counties Manukau 7 (Jordan Taufua try; Luteru Laulala con) HT: 17-0

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