Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Canterbury deal with pressure of expectation

Canterbury player Tom Taylor celebrates after scoring his first try with team mates. Photo / Getty Images.
Canterbury player Tom Taylor celebrates after scoring his first try with team mates. Photo / Getty Images.

The trouble with sporting dynasties is they can create a pressure of expectation which some players hoping to share in that success have trouble dealing with.

Former Canterbury coach Rob Penney, who led the red and blacks to four consecutive national provincial titles before Tabai Matson took over and added another last night, knew this well. One of his main messages to his young charges last year was: "Forget about winning four in a row, just win this one."

That was something Matson and assistant Scott Robertson were also conscious of this year, yet they also embraced the challenge and chance to make history. Their theme song, which they belted out on the AMI Stadium pitch after beating Auckland 31-18 contained the chorus "back, to back, to back, to back, to back". They are the only side to win five in a row.

The song would have also got an airing in the changing room afterwards and at captain George Whitelock's Christchurch house as the celebrations continued today (Sun).

That would have been especially appropriate because Whitelock is the only player to have been involved in all of Canterbury's five consecutive titles, which began in 2008 with a final win over Wellington. The other victims were Wellington again, Waikato, Waikato, and now Auckland, who had until last night (Sat) shared the record of four consecutive titles (1987-90 and 1993-96) with Canterbury.

After the match Whitelock said the team had expected Auckland's vigorous start, in which they scored a converted try through Hadleigh Parkes in the opening two minutes and played with an energy and commitment, especially up front, which appeared to rattle Canterbury.

However, the red and blacks were clinical when they got their opportunities - Tom Taylor twice scoring first-half tries - his second in the closing minutes of the opening stanza despite wing Telusa Veainu cooling his heels for an intentional slap-down as Auckland threatened.

Taylor's kicking and a try to Veainu effectively shut the gate on Auckland after the break. With their forwards tiring, Canterbury got their momentum back which led to an increased line speed on defence and life was made difficult for Wayne Pivac's men.

While Auckland's scrum was dominant, and the second-half entrance of prop Charlie Faumuina added to this, their lineout was poor and Canterbury took advantage.

"The lineout was outstanding," captain Whitelock acknowledged. "We did a lot of work during the week and we came up with a plan that worked."

Flanker Whitelock, who capped off an outstanding season with another big game, took advantage of a sloppy Auckland set piece to help set up Taylor's second try.

It was a tough way for Auckland captain Daniel Braid to celebrate his 100th and possibly final game for the province.

Another favourite saying in red and black country is the one about a player or team's greatest strength also being their greatest weakness.

Auckland's fullback Charles Piutau's liking for running over kicking would have been targeted by Canterbury and his decision to run back an Andy Ellis clearance ended with a turnover and Veainu's try.

On such things do titles, and dynasties, rest.

Canterbury 31 (Tom Taylor 2, Telusa Veainu tries; Taylor 2 cons, 3 pens; Tyler Bleyendaal drop goal) Auckland 18 (Hadleigh Parkes, Lolagi Visinia tries; Gareth Anscombe con, 2 pens). HT: 15-13

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