High five for Canterbury
Canterbury secured their fifth consecutive National Provincial Championship with a 31-18 victory over Auckland in Christchurch.
Can Canty? On Saturday night at a packed and excited AMI Stadium, Canterbury answered the age-old question with 'Canty can'. After all they won the Final of the ITM Cup 31-18 against the strong Auckland side and thereby set the record of five consecutive wins in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship.
Since its inauguration in 1976 no other team has managed that. Auckland had twice won it four times but here was Canterbury breaking records, and their fullback Tom Taylor also broke a record. His 23 points are the most by an individual in a Final, passing the records of Andrew Mehrtens and Daniel Carter.
The calm night started with silence to remember the life and recent death of Sir Wilson Whineray and then the singing of the national anthem. It ended with lots of Canterbury glee and fireworks in the sky.
There certainly was a time when it seemed to be Auckland's match as they ran with passes of great skill and surged ahead to 13-7 after 27 minutes and soon after that Canterbury had a man in the sin bin. Sin bin or not Canterbury then took over and when the siren went they were winning 31-13. They had scored 24 unanswered points in those 53 minutes. And when Auckland scored the last try the Canterbury players behind their line hugged and high-fived with happiness, for they knew they had won.
Gareth Anscombe of Auckland kicked off and Dave Thomas won the ball back for them. For the next two minutes Auckland attacked with many phases, getting closer and closer through Hadleigh Parkes and No.8 Joe Edwards till Parkes burst past Wyatt Crockett to score under the posts. 7-0 after two minutes, and Canterbury had not yet touched the ball.
The first line-out got the ball for Canterbury for the first time and it was there turn to lay down phases in the frenetic start to a great Final. The Auckland made mistakes.
Parkes kicked dead from inside his half and Auckland were freekicked at the subsequent scrum. No.8 Luke Whitelock tapped and the next thing Robbie Fruean was racing down the left touchline. He played inside to Taylor and the fullback got over far out. But he converted. 7-7 after 11 minutes.
But Auckland were dominant. Ben Lam had a strong run and was always a handful for the home side in the first half. Canterbury were offside and Anscombe goaled. 100-7 after 14 minutes. A Parkes grubber just beat Lam into touch at the cornerflag and then Ben Franks was offside. 13-7 after 27 minutes, but Auckland's scoring then dried up.
Alby Mathewson was penalised – questionably – at a ruck. 13-10 after 31 minutes, and then it seemed Canterbury had blown it.
Auckland went through phases and had a four-one situation on their left when Telusa Veainu deliberately knocked on and was sent to the sin bin. Anscombe missed the subsequent penalty. Instead Canterbury got the lead.
Ali Williams slapped the ball back in a line-out and George Whitelock grabbed the awkward ball. Canterbury went left where Ryan Crotty handed off Parkes, ran up to Charles Piutau and sent a perfect pass to Taylor who just got away from Malakai Fekitoa to score on the left. 15-13, which was the half-time score.
Early in the second half Taylor extended the lead to 18-13 so that =when Veainu came back his side had scored 8 points while he was absent.
Taylor's next penalty set the individual points' record for a Final. 24-13 after 47 minutes.
Canterbury attacked and flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal dropped a soaring goal. 24-13 after 56 minutes. Then came the sort of try Canterbury score better than anybody else.
Auckland were attacking strongly when Andy Ellis stole the ball at a tackle/ruck. He kicked far downfield and Piutau ran it back. He was tackled and Canterbury won a turnover and went right. Fruean cut and then lobbed a pass out to Veainu who had an easy passage to the right corner. Taylor converted. 31-13 with 20 minutes to play.
Auckland had the better of those 20 minutes but did not really look likely to score till the siren found them on the line. They went wide left where Lolagi Visinia scored in the corner.
Man of the Match: The two-try, 23-point record breaker, Tom Taylor.
Tries: Taylor 2, Veainu
Cons: Taylor 2
Pens: Taylor 3
Tries: Parkes, Visinia
Pens: Anscombe 2
Canterbury: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Willi Heinz, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Joel Everson, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Jed Brown, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Matthew Thatcher, 21 Kolio Hifo, 22 Stephen Gee.
Auckland: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Dave Thomas, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Joe Edwards, 7 Daniel Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Andrew van der Heijden, 19 Wayne Ngaluafe, 20 Scott Patterson, 21 Simon Hickey, 22 Lolagi Visinia.
Referee: Glenn Jackson
Winners of the NPC
1976: Bay of Plenty
1992: Waikato beat Otago, 40-5
1993: Auckland beat Otago 27-18
1994: Auckland beat North Harbour 22-16
1995: Auckland beat Otago 23-19
1996: Auckland beat Counties Manukau 46-15
1997: Canterbury beat Counties Manukau 44-13
1998: Otago beat Waikato 49-20
1999: Auckland beat Wellington 24-18
2000: Wellington beat Canterbury 34-29
2001: Canterbury beat Otago 30-19
2002: Auckland beat Waikato 40-28
2003: Auckland beat Wellington 41-29
2004: Canterbury beat Wellington, 40-27
2005: Auckland beat Otago 39-11
Air New Zealand Cup Final
2006: Waikato beat Wellington, 37-31
2007: Auckland beat Wellington 23-14
2008: Canterbury beat Wellington 7-6
2009: Canterbury beat Wellington 28-20
ITM Cup Final
2010: Canterbury vs Waikato, 33-13
2011: Canterbury vs Waikato, 12-3
2012: Canterbury vs Auckland, 31-18
The NPC has been up for grabs 36 times. A summary of winners would look like this:
2 Otago, Waikato
1 Bay of Plenty, Counties, Manawatu
There have been 21 finals. A summary of the winners would look like this:
1 Wellington, Otago
The number of appearances
1 North Harbour