Canterbury have claimed their fourth straight Farah Palmer Cup title in thrilling fashion, with lock Cindy Nelles crashing over for an 82nd minute try to sink Waikato 8-7 at Rugby Park in Christchurch.
Waikato showed they were up to the task through their smothering defence from the opening whistle. While Canterbury had the majority of possession and territory in the opening 40 minutes, they only had a 3-0 lead to show for it at the break as a number of try-scoring opportunities went begging.
It took until the 64th minute for the first try of the game, when Waikato flanker Kennedy Simon got over the line to put her side on the board and in the lead, which was stretched beyond a penalty goal through captain Chelsea Alley's conversion.
For Canterbury, chasing a second straight unbeaten season, the pressure was switched on. But as they did in the first half, they continued to test the Waikato defence and though the visitors remained stoic, they ultimately cracked at the death as Canterbury hammered them from close range and Nelles scored the winner.
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"It was a challenging year obviously for everyone, but we were just so grateful to have rugby," Canterbury captain Alana Bremner said after the match. "We're happy to be out here playing rugby and I'm sure the rest of the teams can say that as well."
For Waikato, making the final and coming within seconds of lifting the title is a stark turnaround from their 2019 campaign in which they won just one game.
"There was a lot of belief in our team and we gave it all," Alley said. "Canterbury are a bloody classy side and they need to be really proud, but I'm proud of my girls for the season we've had. But we're not broken yet – we'll be back next year bigger and better than ever."
Canterbury 8 (Cindy Nelles try; Kendra Cocksedge pen)
Waikato 7 (Kennedy Simon try; Chelsea Alley con)
Here's how the match unfolded: