All Blacks coach Steve Hansen may not want them, but Andy Ellis and skipper George Whitelock have made a priceless contribution in Canterbury's charge to tomorrow night's ITM Cup final.

Their marshalling of the backs and forwards respectively has been a feature of the young Canterbury team's successful season. Both are masters at steadying the ship when the team is under pressure.

No one appreciates that more than coach Tabai Matson, who paid tribute to their contribution as his team prepared for the final.

"I couldn't speak highly enough of those guys,'' he said.


"Andy, well he played out the World Cup final, so in the key close moments he's been awesome as well as his skillset.

"He's been the form halfback all campaign and clearly we hope he goes to higher things.

"And George - how many captains have lifted the trophy three times? He's hit form like no other year - he's scored six times in six games and he's doing the yards in defence. He's been inspirational.''

Canterbury will set a record of five consecutive provincial titles if they win tomorrow's final, but strangely in spite of his eight years in rugby at this level, it will be Ellis's first NPC final. All Black duties and semi-final injuries have kept him out of the others.

In spite of the blow of being discarded after helping New Zealand win the World Cup where the image of him booting the ball out to bring the final to an end is enduring, the 28-year-old hasn't found it hard to motivate himself.

"It's been really refreshing,'' he said. "It's been such a good young group of guys and my role's changed a little bit in the team now too, so I really enjoy it. Tabs (coach Tabai Matson) has created a really good environment.''

"It was awesome to be part of a team trying to create history - but we know it's one step at a time, it really is. We can't look at the summit just yet. We've got to do the work first.''

There were some pretty beaten up bodies after the extra-time semi-final win, but the players had Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday off this week.

"It's all about freshening up, and I think when it comes to finals week there's a really extra spark and motivation,'' he said.

Matson had told them to be themselves in the final. "... be ruthless and execute and go out and enjoy ourselves, and if we do that and go out and play the way we want to play, I think we'll be all right.

"There's a lot of hard work to be done, our D is going to have to be awesome, and we are going to have to be really physical and get our set piece right - but at the same time we've got to just go out and enjoy ourselves.''

Finals were always about defence, and they had to make their tackles, be smart and not give away silly penalties.

Ellis is not really surprised to find Piri Weepu won't line up against him tomorrow.

"Auckland play a certain style of play and perhaps it doesn't really suit Piri's style, but at the same time you think that experience on the bench would help,'' he said.
Alby Mathewson had been really influential for them, he pointed out. He was playing better and better and creating a lot of opportunities.

"We're going to have to be right on our game at ruck time. He'll exploit space around the ruck but he also picks those runners up. They've got some really good forward ball runners, so it's a big challenge for us with Alby there. He's quick and very fast.''

However, another big match for Ellis tomorrow might remind Hansen he can't forget him.

"I'd love to go on the end of year tour, but I think it's a little out of my control,'' he said. He felt he'd played really well over the last couple of years, but if the All Blacks coach wanted to bring new guys into the mix, that was his call.

"I can just control what I do on the field and he controls what he controls. The beauty is I love living in Christchurch, I love playing for Canterbury and I love playing for the Crusaders, and as long as that passion is still here I'll be here.''