CANTERBURY 38 WELLINGTON 38
Wellington launched one of the great finishes of NPC first division rugby history at Jade Stadium, Christchurch today but were denied the Ranfurly Shield after drawing 38-38 with Canterbury.
Down 10-35 with 15 minutes remaining, Wellington scorched home with four late tries but it wasn't enough to lift the famous shield from Canterbury.
Centre Conrad Smith crossed for his second try, under the crossbar, in the 79th minute but despite the rushed conversion, the fulltime whistle denied Wellington another chance to go ahead. They scored six tries to three.
It was a remarkable end to a match Canterbury had dominated, with the boot of first five-eighth Cameron McIntyre keeping the holders in control. He kicked seven penalties, five of them in the first half to push them out to a 20-10 lead at the break and proved an ideal replacement for Andrew Merhtens after the injured All Black great was ruled out yesterday.
Two tries in the opening 15 minutes of the second half to winger Alisi Tupuailei appeared to push Canterbury well on the way to their 23rd defence.
Flying Wellington winger Sireli Bobo kick-started Wellington's fightback when put on the outside for a try in the 67th minute.
No 8 Thomas Waldrom followed up moments later before McIntyre slotted his seventh minute in the 72nd minute, a kick which would ultimately prove crucial.
Wellington replacement prop Neemia Tialata's try was followed by Smith's, with reserve halfback Piri Weepu nudging over his fourth straight conversion.
Victory would have been an incredible result for a Wellington team outplayed in nearly every facet.
Canterbury were far more cohesive in the forwards and made fewer errors outside the scrumbase, their defence constantly frustrating the visitors.
They scored one first-half try through flanker Scott Robertson while Iva Motusaga and Smith scored tries in the space of two minutes midway through the spell for Wellington.
It exemplified the hot-and-cold nature of their game.
Canterbury's 23rd defence of the shield in this tenure equals the record of their 1953-56 predecessors. It will also put them only two behind the 25 defences by the 1982-85 squad.
The result also saw Canterbury move level with Wellington at the top of the NPC table on 22 points each.
Canterbury 38 (Alisi Tupuailei 2, Scott Robertson tries; Cameron McIntyre 7 pen, con)
Wellington 38 (Conrad Smith 2, Iva Motusaga, Sireli Bobo, Thomas Waldrom, Neemia Tialata tries; Piri Weepu 4 con)
Halftime: Canterbury 20-10