Canterbury have retained the Ranfurly Shield in emphatic fashion as they thumped North Otago 71-7 in their first pre-season outing in Christchurch.
The Mitre 10 Cup juggernauts made light work of their Heartland Championship counterparts, who earned the right to challenge for the Log o’ Wood after winning the Meads Cup last year.
With eight Crusaders players and All Blacks Sevens star Andrew Knewstubb in Canterbury’s starting lineup, the hosts ran North Otago ragged in the first half to head into half-time with a 45-0 lead.
Six of their 11 tries came within the first 28 minutes, with Knewstubb, who was making his provincial debut along with 13 other players, among those to cross the chalk inside the opening half an hour.
The difference in speed and physicality between the two sides was clear to see, and Canterbury coaches Mark Brown and Reuben Thorne will no doubt be heartened by the performances of Mataele and Cullen Grace.
Both players were making their first appearances following injury lay-offs, but wing Mataele – playing in his first game for Canterbury since transferring from Taranaki – looked in good condition as he made easy work of the North Otago defence with his pace and elusive footwork.
Grace, meanwhile, showed why he was in firm contention for a possible All Blacks call-up following a breakout campaign with the Crusaders before a broken thumb scuppered his Super Rugby Aotearoa season.
The 20-year-old was a prominent threat in ball in hand, and had plenty to offer on defence before being pulled from the field at half-time in place of the impressive Bill Fukofuka.
Former All Blacks lock Luke Romano, meanwhile, took the captaincy role for the first time in his 11-year provincial career, and lived up to the occasion with some bruising tackles that rocked opposition ball carriers.
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One-test All Blacks first-five Brett Cameron was another standout for Canterbury in a performance that will have pleased Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who watched on with assistants Jason Ryan and Scott Hansen, as well as ex-All Black halfback Byron Kelleher.
As the match wore on, however, the Canterbury attack became a bit more stagnant as the replacements rolled out onto the field, and North Otago were rewarded for their persistence when reserve prop Josh Hayward scored their sole try in the 70th minute.
Canterbury will now hold onto the Ranfurly Shield until September 19, when they host Taranaki in the second round of the Mitre 10 Cup, a week after they kick-off their domestic campaign against North Harbour in Albany on September 11.
North Otago, meanwhile, are set to defend the Hanan Shield against South Canterbury and Mid Canterbury in the coming weeks following the cancellation of the Heartland Championship due to COVID-19.
Canterbury 71 (Dallas McLeod, Andrew Knewstubb, Finlay Brewis, Isaiah Punivai, Billy Harmon, Manasa Mataele (2), Chay Fihaki, Sam Darry (2), Rameke Poihipi tries; Brett Cameron 8 conversions)
North Otago 7 (Josh Hayward try; Josh Phipps conversion)
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