Canterbury marches on after Auckland beating in Christchurch

At Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch: Canterbury 38 (Dominic Gardiner, Manasa Mataele, Tom Christie, Rameka Poihipi try, penalty try; Alex Harford 4 con, drop goal) Auckland 20 (Salesi Rayasi, Jackson Pugh, Joel Cobb tries; Harry Plummer cheats, pen). HT: 21-10

Red card: Niko Jones (Auckland)

Yellow cards: Blake Gibson (Auckland), Taufa Funaki (Auckland)

Canterbury just keeps rolling.

The Reds and Blacks hammered 38-20 on Auckland on Friday night in Christchurch, giving their rivals home quarter-final a big blow on a night when Niko Jones was sent off for a high shot at the George Bridge in the death.

The Auckland flanker was shown a red card as he was taken off the field after he launched into Bridge like a scud missile and the pair collided heads in an ugly incident.

A lengthy game stoppage while Jones was receiving medical attention only delayed the inevitable – Canterbury’s sixth consecutive bonus point win, which locked up all but home field advantage as long as they live in the league.

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Young pivot Alex Harford, who just made his second start for Canterbury, was an excellent replacement for Fergus Burke (illness), one of the team’s best players heading into the game.

The old boy from Christchurch Boys’ High School played a hand in multiple tries, scoring four conversions and driving a drop goal from about 150 yards.

It was his offload to Tamaiti Williams that caused the break leading to Tom Christie’s 49th minute try which took the hosts to a 31-10 lead and essentially ended Auckland’s chances.

Canterbury pivot Alex Harford played a great game against Auckland in Christchurch.

Peter Meecham/Getty Images

Canterbury pivot Alex Harford played a great game against Auckland in Christchurch.

To think they trailed 10-0 early and barely touched the ball in the first 25 minutes against an Auckland side who started so well.

But they let themselves down by ill-discipline one night when Blake Gibson and Taufa Funaki were also booked.

Gibson was lucky not to get a red card from referee Dan Waenga in the 12th minute when he dropped his knee into Christie’s head.

The loose striker, who had objected to Christie clinging to his leg at a ruck, could still see the act being reconsidered by the foul play committee.

Canterbury wing Manasa Mataele crosses Friday night in Hamish Dalzell's tackle in Christchurch.

Canterbury wing Manasa Mataele crosses Friday night in Hamish Dalzell’s tackle in Christchurch.

Canterbury failed to cash in while off the park but the same couldn’t be said when Funaki spent 10 minutes in the bin for slamming a ball dead into the goal in the 32nd minute.

The resulting penalty try hurled the game towards Canterbury, as they scored two more tries before the break.

Auckland looked broken.

Playing without excellent flanker Adrian Choat (equipped), they had been all over Canterbury for the first 25 minutes of the match.

They harassed the hosts at the disturbance, disrupted their lineout, gave them a hard time with a clever trap play and repeatedly tied long game passages together.

One of their lengthy forays led to Salesi Rayasi’s third-minute try, a beautiful set-up by Funaki’s deft kick behind the red-and-blacks.

Even when Gibson was shown a yellow card, the visitors kept their fires high, leading to Harry Plummer’s 15th minute penalty and a 10-0 lead.

Canterbury, unaided by a series of errors from fullback Chay Fihaki, looked something like the team that had won five consecutive bonus points.

Canterbury fullback Chay Fihaki on the charge against Auckland in Christchurch.

Peter Meecham/Getty Images

Canterbury fullback Chay Fihaki on the charge against Auckland in Christchurch.

However, with their scrum giving the Aucklanders a real incentive, they soon gained some possession and territory and put the visitors under the pump.

After Funaki’s blunder, Dominic Gardiner shot down a Plummer kick and pounced on the loose ball, before Manasa Mataele picked up a nice long ball from Harford and landed for a 21-10 lead at the split.

The big moment

It had to be Funaki’s brain blur. After all, it led to a penalty try and Canterbury scored two more while he was in jail.

Agreement Review

7/10. A mixed bag. Some quality attempts, but too many mistakes and an outburst win meant it never really took off.

The big picture

Canterbury, with eight wins from nine games, is safe as houses with one week left in the regular season.

As for Auckland, for their last game against Taranaki at home, they now have to be wary with North Harbour, Tasman and Northland watching them.

MVP

Take a bow, Alex Harford.

No Fergus Burke might have frightened some Canterbury fans before the match, only for the slick passing pivot to give a clinic in just his second start.

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