Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Six of the best for Canterbury

Canterbury have won their sixth straight ITM Cup title after beating Wellington at the Cake Tin tonight. Photo / Getty
Canterbury have won their sixth straight ITM Cup title after beating Wellington at the Cake Tin tonight. Photo / Getty

Wellington 13
Canterbury 29

Wellington's provincial rugby heartbreak continues.

Few teams have mastered the art of finishing second more than the Lions who tripped at the final hurdle again tonight as Canterbury won a tense ITM Cup final 29-13 in the capital.

The loss marked the seventh time since 2000 - when they last won the competition - that Wellington have lost in the decider.

Wellington were the form team of the competition throughout the season, winning nine of their 10 round-robin games, and they breezed in to tonight's final with a dominant 41-10 win over Counties Manukau in the semis last week.

But when it comes to the final, past results go out the window and Canterbury were dominant in the areas that mattered, while Wellington made too many mistakes.

Canterbury's victory was their sixth on the bounce as their phenomenal run in provincial rugby carried on.

Led by skipper George Whitelock, who enjoyed a dominant outing, including a crucial turnover late in the game and the final try, Canterbury's finals experience shone through.

They were workman-like in their approach and with a dose of flash from right wing Patrick Osborne, they drove Wellington in to the canvas.

During the opening 20 minutes, Wellington employed a kick-heavy approach as they looked to pin Canterbury back in their own half.

The downside of such tactics within a swirling Westpac Stadium meant the Lions had to be accurate in their execution but some of their punts were wayward and it also gave the visitors a mountain of possession to work with.

It was a spirited opening to the game but both sides experienced their own early jitters as the wind made life tricky for the hookers who were attempting to throw the ball to the lineout, while there was the odd skewed pass in general play.

Canterbury took the lead against the run of play when a poor kick from Wellington halfback Frae Wilson was fielded by Canterbury's Osborne.

The Highlanders-bound flyer produced a deft grubber kick to beat the first man and as he regathered the ball he found the ever-present Andy Ellis inside of him who scooted round to score near the posts.

Down 7-0, Wellington fought their way back with Lima Sopoaga collecting 10 points.

First, the 22-year-old booted a long-range penalty and then he crossed for a try of his own in the 34th minute and added the conversion.

Sopoaga's five-pointer came on the back of a sustained period of attack for the home side who struggled to find a way through the red and black wall of defence.

Playing in front of a vocal home crowd of 15,070, Wellington took a 10-7 lead to the break.

Canterbury began stronger in the second spell as they pinned Wellington in their own half and ensured they rarely had the opportunity to leave.

Their territorial advantage eventually told when a looping Osborne pass found Ryan Crotty who dove over in the corner to restore Canterbury's lead.

It wasn't all plain sailing for the Cantabrians though as All Black tourist Joe Moody limped off mid-way through the second spell and the burly prop was replaced by Paea Fa'anunu.

Luke Whitelock was denied a try by the TMO in the 57th minute, where Canterbury thought he had scored and returned to halfway, while Wellington set up for a scrum.

Eventually it was Wellington who were right as they set to defend another Canterbury onslaught.

Their defence was then breached only moments later when first-five Tyler Bleyendaal smuggled the ball over after Adam Whitelock was bundled to ground just short of the line.

A brilliant sideline conversion in the wind for All Blacks utility Tom Taylor pushed Canterbury out to a 19-10 advantage with 20 minutes left.

Both sides later exchanged penalties, and as time wound down, Wellington couldn't find a way through as the red and black curtain was drawn again.

When George Whitelock crossed for his five-pointer with a couple of minutes left it only served to pad out the scoreline.

Canterbury 29 (Andy Ellis, Ryan Crotty, Tyler Bleyendaal, George Whitelock tries; Tom Taylor pen, 3 con)
Wellington 13 (Lima Sopoaga try; Sopoaga 2 pen, con)
HT: 7-10

- APNZ

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