Rugby: Canterbury eke out win in lacklustre final

By Steve Deane

Canterbury 7
Wellington 6

National domestic rugby champions Canterbury won't give two hoots that Saturday night's victory over Wellington is likely to go down as the poorest final in the competition's history.

Finals are about winning, and that is precisely what Canterbury did, defending grimly against a Wellington team that took choking to a new level, to claim a worthy Super 14 and Air New Zealand Cup double.

Canterbury deserved to win for their sheer determination alone but, after a season when off-field matters had more import than anything occurring between the white lines, Saturday's car crash final was a fitting end.

Finals are often dour affairs, but it's hard to recall anything quite so grim as the rain-lashed slog in the capital.

With the players constricted by the weather and finals pressure, the Cake Tin was a flair-free zone. Despite the tight scoreline, the contest even managed to lack drama.

Wellington's utter inability to free up time and space for their strike players meant there was an air of futility about their attacks long before Canterbury began to tuck the ball under their jumpers and play for time.

Just 22,000 people attended the showpiece final. Such was the spectacle - or, more accurately, the utter lack of one - that most of them would have been questioning their wisdom.

Canterbury offered little in attack but, such was the suffocating nature of their defence, that hardly mattered.

The scoring details were few. Canterbury flanker Hayden Hopgood powered over for a first-half try after a nice series of pick-and-goes, and Piri Weepu kicked a couple of penalties for Wellington.

Those "highlights" aside, the game was a mess of handling errors, breakdown infringements and wasted endeavour. Weepu had a chance to put Wellington in front with a penalty 20 minutes from the end, but his kick shaved the right-hand upright. That was as close as Wellington got to avoiding a third straight final defeat and a fifth in six years.

The Lions will still be kicking themselves now, although on Saturday's evidence they'll probably miss, such was their inability to execute their intentions.

With Andy Ellis absent because of a knee injury, Wellington were always going to target Canterbury's inexperienced halves Tyson Keats and Colin Slade.

They did so with some success. The poise Slade had displayed in Canterbury's semifinal and quarter-final victories rather deserted him. At one stage he sliced a clearing kick on his 22 directly in-field, while he also missed the tackle that led to Wellington's best chance of the match.

Halfback Alby Mathewson spotted that Slade was slightly out of position and shot through the hole. Wing Tamati Ellison loomed up in support as Mathewson closed on the 22 but Sean Maitland got in the way and Mathewson's forced pass went directly into touch.

With Wellington building momentum and dominating territory and possession throughout the second half, it seemed Mathewson's blunder would merely be a footnote in a long-overdue Wellington victory.

Instead, it was a harbinger of things to come. Attack after attack broke down with similar errors.

Wing Hosea Gear, who had 14 tries to his name going into the match, was reduced to fielding kicks inside his own 22 as a red-and-black wall descended on him. Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, the All Blacks centre pairing reunited in a late swap by coach Jamie Joseph that sent Ellison to the wing, were equally impotent.

But, even with their backline malfunctioning, Wellington created enough attacking opportunities to win.

Reserve prop Jacob Ellison threw away the last of those opportunities, being turned over by the stoic Canterbury defence attempting to pick and go with his team in prime position for a match-winning drop kick.

Canterbury captain Kieran Read was understandably ecstatic with the result. "Wellington threw everything at us, and we just had to apply ourselves," Read said. "We back our D and it came out tonight."

Weepu was left to pass judgment on another season of under-achievement: "Canterbury played well, but we just didn't turn our opportunities into points. They defend hard and it showed tonight."

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 26 Dec 2014 14:48:08 Processing Time: 620ms