Ranfurly Shield Defense
Jade Stadium, Christchurch
7:30pm, 9th August, 2002
Referee: Lyndon Bray
Final Score: Canterbury 51 - East Coast 6 (25-3 at halftime)
Well with most of the East Coast population making the trip down to support their boys in blue and Canterbury without 18 first choice players the chances of an upset in this one looked pretty damn good.
While Canterbury still went into the game as strong favourites the sympathetic vote was definitely in favour of East Coast. Hell, even the red 'n black Rugbyheads faithful were saying how great it would be if East Coast could steal the shield away to the second division, out of the clutches of all these professional players and back to the grass roots.
A big issue was made of the fact that Canterbury were missing so many players who are on All Black duty but the commentators mentioned some interesting stats at half-time that really summed up the reality of it. Canterbury has 13000 registered rugby players to choose from (the second most amongst NZ provinces, behind Auckland), East Coast has 537 (the least amongst NZ provinces). On top of that the players in red and black have all benefitted from being part of the Canterbury rugby system, which has proved so successful at all levels in recent years. Really the East Coast were major underdogs.
So on to the match.
Things got started with a fiery haka from the East Coast team. A very passionate performance that had Ben Hurst and his boys looking very worried as the camera panned across the young Canterbury pack facing it. Unfortunately for East Coast this Canterbury fear didn't resurface during the match.
From the kickoff Canterbury showed their plans early, quickly going wide, out as far as Ben Blair who copped a high "welcome to the game" tackle from EC first-five Mano Flutey.
Canterbury continued to maintain possession and EC infringe a few more times until finally they get in kicking range, Blair slots it over and it's 3-0 after about 3 minutes.
Not long after the restart EC get the ball back and Flutey puts up a bomb that Ben Blair uncharacteristically fumbles, EC get an attacking scrum. Canterbury put in a huge defensive scrum though and get possession back. Surprisingly (to me at least) the smaller Canterbury scrum got the better of the EC boys all night long, proving that the EC diet of pies and jugs (how else do you build such fine physiques?) may impress the ladies but it doesn't do it on the field. (The EC half-back has obviously been hanging out with the front row at dinner time too, he's a solid boy!)
Canterbury continue to maintain some pressure and possession and eventually they turn it into points with a nice try in the corner to winger Scott Hamilton (wasn't he an olympic ice skater?!?). Blair's poor kicking night continues as he misses a tough conversion (he had already missed two penalties in the spell). 8-0 to Canterbury after 14 minutes.
A shoulder charge and general mugging of Ben Hurst results in an EC prop getting sent to the bin for 10 (no, not 10 pies/jugs, 10 min). It definitely deserved the bin and EC are in danger of getting a bit carried away with their physical play and general niggle (particularly Mano Flutey) and really need to get some focus back and hold onto some possession.
The sin binning seems to provide exactly the wakeup call EC need, and they put together at least 10 phases of good rolling forward play as they muscle the ball up the field. Unfortunately it all is a bit slow though and the Canterbury defense is able to regroup after each phase and are their to snuff out the move as soon as the EC backs get a chance to play with the ball. The field position pays off though and Flutey nails a penalty to pull the scoreline back to 8-3 after 21 minutes. At this point the possession stats are about 50%-50%.
From the restart Canterbury force a lineout on the EC 15m mark and prop Chris King scores a great try in the corner from the resulting driving maul. Blair misses another tough conversion. 13-3 Canterbury
Not long after the restart Lock Matt Dalziel (who had a huge game) breaks the EC defensive line on the Canterbury 22 and makes a 20m break up field before offloading perfectly to Nathan Mauger who outstrips the cover defense and scores under the posts. Blair converts this one to push it out to 20-3 after 35min.
Canterbury maintain the ball from the kickoff and after numerous phases Ben Hurst chips over the top of the defense and No 8 Rhys Williams (who also had a strong game) regathers a favourable bounce and stretches out in the tackle to score another try. No conversion leaves it at 25-3 with 38min up. That is the half-time score as Flutey misses a penalty as the last play of the first half. Half-time stats show Canterbury with a 59%-41% advantage in territory, 56%-44% in possession and a penalty count of on 2, as opposed to East Coast's 12. All pretty much supporting the scoreline.
The first few minutes of the second half are pretty messy, with both sides having some possession but turning it over. East Coast get their best scoring opportunity of the game as their forwards rumble it up to the try line only to be pinged for accidental offside (man in front of the driving ball carrier) right on the line.
DH's cousin, Leighton Croft gets subbed for Trevor Brown.
As they did all night the superior speed and passing of the Canterbury backs sweeps them back up the field, providing an opportunity out wide for Ben Blair who chips the defence and forces the EC winger to carry it back and conceed a 5m scrum. From the resulting scrum Canterbury spread it wide and second-five Dan Carter scores the first of his second half hat-trick of tries with a nice dummy and step through the EC defence. Blair converts and it's 32-3 after 54min, and any chance of an EC come-back appears dead and buried.
The restart takes play back into the Canterbury half but very quickly they sweep back up the left hand touch and only a brilliant cover tackle from the EC left winger can stop Ben Hurst from scoring in the corner. The defensive stand was shortlived though as EC botch the 5m lineout and Dan Carter uses his great sidestep to score under the posts from the resulting Canterbury scrum. Blair slots the goal and it's 39-3 with 20min to go.
EC get back into Canterbury territory and given another opportunity Mano Flutey slots his second penalty to make it 39-6. This is really his last contribution to the game as he gets subbed not long after.
Over the next 10 minutes the game loses it's structure as both sides show signs of fatigue, and Canterbury get a bit sloppy. A few substitutes seem to change that though (including the replacement half-back for EC who isn't much smaller than the starting no 9!) as Canterbury run in two more tries in the last 10 minutes.
First Nathan Mauger picked up his second as he finished off a great series of phases by crossing the line out wide (and running around under the bar for Bennie to convert) and then Dan Carter demonstrates that he has a fend as well as a side-step as he beats one defender and then fends two more (one of each side) to score his hat-trick.
The final score is 51-6 and the Shield stays in Christchurch.
Overall it wasn't quite the spectacle that everyone was hoping for, I really though East Coast were in with a chance tonight but this young Canterbury side showed just how big the gap is between first division rugby and the lower grades.
Well done Canterbury, sorry for my lack of faith in you young fellas, and good on East Coast and their supporters for their effort and spirit, that is what Ranfurly shield games are all about.