Canterbury made it back-to-back national interprovincial titles for the first time with a nail-biting 28-20 win over Wellington in their Air New Zealand Cup final at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, on Saturday night.
It was Canterbury’seventh championship in the 34-year history of the NPC and for Wellington their poor record in finals continued. It was the sixth time in the last six years that Wellington had been in the final without going on to win it, Canterbury having beaten them in three of those finals.
When wing Sean Maitland scored a spectacular solo try in the 61st minute, Canterbury went ahead, 25-10, and the 12,000-strong home crowd was baying for victory. But Wellington has proved itself a gritty second-half competitor and closed to 25-20 with seven minutes to play and Canterbury had its fullback Colin Slade in the sinbin.
Canterbury made a rapid start with their first score on 2 minutes after Wellington failed to protect the ball and flanker George Whitelock pounced, combined with his brother Sam, who put fullback Colin Slade away on a 60m sprint to the corner, Brett landing the wide conversion. Weepu had Wellington’s first chance to score in the seventh minute, but his 40m angled penalty kick just went wide. Wellington hands in the scrum in the 16th minute gave Brett his first penalty chance from 33m on the angle and he made no mistake to take Canterbury to a 10-0 lead. The half continued with both sides conceding penalties, Brett slotting one of these on 29 minutes to make it 13-0
Centre Casey Laulala tested Wellington’s defence in the 24th minute with a kick-and-chase to 10m from the visitor’s line, but Canterbury conceded a penalty at the breakdown. Both teams were giving away too many penalties in the first quarter. At last on 31 minutes Weepu got Wellington on the board with a 42m penalty kick after 31. Canterbury hit straight back with a superb kick to the corner by Brett which Weepu carried into touch. From the lineout, Canterbury drove to the line before the backs were set free with Laualala putting Slade in a half gap and the fullback had the speed to cruise to the line, Brett missing the conversion. This was the final score of the half and we went in at 18-3
It was vital Wellington scored first in the second half and they did, but it took until the 52 minute when a Slade high pass was comfortably intercepted by Leuia who trotted 20m to score under the cross-bar, Weepu kicking the easy conversion to close the gap to 8 points. The game was then set alight with an amazing score by Maitland, charging onto a Brett pass 40m out and scything through three tackles to score a brilliant try which Brett converted for the defending champion to go out to 25-10 lead. Weepu closed the gap to 12 points with a 31m penalty after 64 minutes and Slade was sinbinned for a professional foul two minutes later, Wellington opted not to take the shot at goal. It was now all Wellington and with Canterbury a man down, the ball was transferred along the line for replacement Scott Fuglistaller to score wide out and Weepu converted to put the visitors just five points behind. However with three minutes to play, Wellington conceded a penalty at a ruck 36m out and Brett struck it sweetly to put Canterbury ahead, 28-20. This proved to be the last score and so we had the win for Canterbury and the final score of:
Canterbury 28-20 Wellington
Tries: Colin Slade 2, Sean Maitland
Goalds: Stephen Brett 2 con, 3 pen
Tries: Alapati Leuia, Scott Fuglistaller
Goals: Piri Weepu 2 con, 2 pen