Canterbury underlined their growing dominance of rugby's Air NZ
Cup and strengthened their grasp on the Ranfurly Shield with a
50-26 win over Manawatu in Christchurch on Friday night.
Apart from the opening few minutes, when Manawatu ignored the script to score an early try, Canterbury looked assured in racking up a dominant eight-try victory.
They were aided in no small part by the return of a swag of All Blacks, with props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks, lock Brad Thorn and blindside flanker Kieran Read all starting.
All Blacks Richie McCaw and first five-eighth Dan Carter began on the reserves bench, although McCaw was called into action after flanker Kieran Read left the field after just 20 minutes.
Carter only came on for the final 15min, and wasted barely 1min of that before crossing for Canterbury's last try.
But it was Manawatu who struck first, catching Canterbury unawares after some elusive running from New Zealand under-20 captain and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden.
Cruden ghosted through two defenders and timed his pass to Aaron James perfectly for the winger to cross after just 3min, with Isaac Thompson converting to give the visitors a surprise lead.
But that lead lasted all of 1min a minute before Read resumed normal service with a well-taken try on the counter-attack after an initial break from halfback Andy Ellis.
Tries to Sam Whitelock and winger Tu Umaga-Marshall followed in quick succession as the competition leaders stretched out to a 19-7 lead after only 12min.
With Canterbury looking increasingly slick, and with a plentiful supply of quick turnover ball, Read picked up his second try to extend the lead to 26-7.
Manawatu ended the first half as they began, a try to lock James Goode after a period of concerted pressure finally breaking through Canterbury's well-drilled defence as the southerners went into halftime 33-12 ahead.
Second-half tries followed for Canterbury to Ellis, Colin Slade and Carter as both teams ignored a kicking game in favour of running rugby.
Manawatu, who scored through Goode again midway through the second half, were rewarded in the closing minutes when substitute centre Tevita Taufui crossed for the bonus point try.
The win entrenched Canterbury's position at the top of the table, with only two losses from 11 games while Manawatu, with three wins to their credit, lie 11th.
Canterbury 50 (Kieran Read 2, Sam Whitelock, Tu Umaga-Marshall, Corey Flynn, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Dan Carter tries; Stephen Brett 5 con)
Manawatu 26 (James Goode 2, Aaron James, Tevita Taufui tries; Isaac Thompson 3 con).