CANTERBURY BULLS WRANGLE PLUCKY RAMS
The New Era Glazing Canterbury Bulls made it two from two in the NZRL National Premiership on Sunday – but they were forced to work for their 38-18 victory by a determined and enterprising Southland Rams outfit at Ngā Puna Wai.
The Bulls, hamstrung by a glut of uncharacteristic mistakes, held a tenuous 16-12 lead at halftime and only sealed the result inside the final 10 minutes.
A second-half brace of tries to Sincere Harraway helped save the Bulls from a shock defeat, while Penetito Ilalio also finished with a double and big prop George Faaiva – one of the hosts’ best contributors – bagged a four-pointer that gave his team some crucial breathing space. Rams trio hooker and co-captain Dylan Lovett, clever halfback Anisoni Kaufononga and rangy centre Jiuata Navakuku proved a handful all afternoon, while the underdogs’ commitment in defence was a constant feature.
The home side hit the scoreboard first in the fourth minute, halfback Toi Sepuloni – so influential in last week’s rout of West Coast – turning a nice ball inside for rugged centre Pio Ioane to slice through.
But Southland struck straight back after an error from Canterbury co-captain Ethan Plaskett on the first tackle after the restart. Rams vice-captain Korey Pennicott deceived the Bulls’ markers to punch over from dummy-half.
An extended period of Rams resistance and enthusiasm on both sides of the ball frustrated the Bulls, until Plaskett atoned for his earlier mistake by reaching out to score at full stretch in the 22nd minute.
Another failure to clean up the kick-off presented Southland with a gilt-edged opportunity, but Canterbury instead went 10 points clear courtesy of a 90-metre intercept try to wing hulk Penetito Ilalio.
The Rams took the next chance from a Bulls fumble with both hands, however. The imposing Navakuku latched onto a superb mid-set grubber from playmaker Kaufononga to score. The visitors put their highly-touted hosts on notice again the next possession, Kaufononga making a long break into Bulls territory.
The red-and-blacks’ bid to have the last say in the first half was repeatedly brought undone by sloppy, disjointed attack in good field position – the Rams deservedly went to the sheds just four points in arrears and were arguably the more impressive of the two sides in the opening 40 minutes.
The frustration continued for the Bulls as they failed to complete their first two sets of the second half, but a fortuitous try five minutes after the resumption put them back on track. Sepuloni’s grubber was toed ahead by fullback and co-captain Harraway, who dotted down after the ball ricocheted off the upright padding.
Again the Rams found a reply, though, with livewire Kaufononga at the heart of it. The No.7 forced a line dropout with a deft kick, before taking on the Bulls’ defence and scoring an excellent solo try.
Sensing his side was in danger of a being on the wrong end of a boilover, Harraway provided the spark. On the back of a contentious penalty, the elusive fullback’s dazzling footwork unlocked a rare lapse in the Southland defence and restored Canterbury’s 10-point buffer.
The Bulls effectively snuffed out the Rams’ valiant challenge with eight minutes to go with giant prop George Faaiva bumping and twisting his way over to score from close range. Ilalio capitalised on a handling errors near to opposition line to pounce for his second try soon afterwards and complete the scoring.
“(Southland) definitely turned up today,” Harraway said post-match.
“Our energy wasn’t really there, they kind of bullied us at the start and we just had to find our momentum and stick to our game. But they were really tight as a team and I wish them the best of luck for next week.”
The New Era Glazing Canterbury Bulls host in-form Otago Whalers at 2pm next Sunday at Ngā Puna Wai, while the Canterbury women’s team is scheduled to face their Wellington counterparts at 12pm at CRL’s home base.
New Era Glazing Canterbury Bulls (Sincere Harraway 2, Penetito Ilalio 2, Pio Ioane, Ethan Plaskett, George Faaiva tries; Toi Sepuloni goals) defeated Southland Rams (Korey Pennicott, Juita Navakuku, Anisoni Kaufononga tries; Kepu Suli, Seru, Kaufaononga goals) at Ngā Puna Wai, Christchurch.
WHEN THEY SCORED
4 min: Canterbury 6-0 (Ioane try, Sepuloni goal)
8 min: 6-all (Pennicott try, Suli goal)
22 min: Canterbury 10-6 (Plaskett try)
27 min: Canterbury 16-6 (Ilalio try, Sepuloni goal)
31 min: Canterbury 16-12 (Navakuku try, Seru goal)
46 min: Canterbury 22-12 (Harraway try, Sepuloni goal)
53 min: Canterbury 22-18 (Kaufononga try, goal)
59 min: Canterbury 28-18 (Harraway try, Sepuloni goal)
72 min: Canterbury 34-18 (Faaiva try, Sepuloni goal)
76 min: Canterbury 38-18 (Ilalio try)