Canterbury got the tough workout they wanted before beating Southland 25-6 in an Air NZ Cup rugby match in Invercargill on Friday. The match was an ideal quarterfinals dress rehearsal for Canterbury, who were assured of finishing second in the regular season before the game at Rugby Park Stadium.
Southland's physical commitment could never be questioned as they made Canterbury toil for success, before two tries in the last quarter secured their ninth successive win since dropping their opening match to Manawatu.Canterbury controlled play throughout the first half, dominating both possession and territory to build a handy 13-0 advantage at the interval. Southland were simply denied the ball, Canterbury committing adequate numbers at the breakdown to retain possession for long periods.
The only try of the spell came from wing James Paterson, who slipped two tackles in the 16th minute, while first five-eighth Colin Slade landed the conversion then added two penalties.
The game turned testy at times as neither forward pack was willing to take a backward step, and an all-in punchup between the packs in the 32nd minute ended with referee Josh Noonan sending one front rower from both teams to the sinbin.
Southland managed to stem the stream of possession going Canterbury's way early in the second half and were given a boost when the visitors lost flanker George Whitelock to the sinbin for repeat offending at the breakdown in the 53rd minute. Almost immediately Southland moved into the opposition 22 and earned a penalty for first five-eighth Robbie Robinson to get them on the scoreboard.
Despite enjoying the better of the third quarter Southland at no stage threatened the tryline, with Canterbury composed and organised when pressed into a defensive mode. Having soaked up that pressure Canterbury made their first incursion deep into the opposition half after the break count when replacement halfback Tyson Keats stretched over the tryline from a ruck in the 66th minute.
They were in again just three minutes later when captain Kieran read picked up the spoils after a decisive midfield break by centre Casey Laulala, making his first outing since breaking an arm in July. The only bad news for Canterbury was an injury to No 8 Mose Tuiali'i, which saw him stretchered from the field and taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays.
Mindful that points differential may have a huge bearing on their final placing, Southland were happy for Robinson to kick his second penalty with eight minutes remaining. Southland entered the final round of the regular season in fifth place and guaranteed a quarterfinal, although their final position will not be known until Sunday.
Canterbury 25 (James Paterson, Tyson Keats, Kieran Read tries; Colin Slade 2 pen, 2 con)
Southland 6 (Robbie Robinson 2 pen).