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Capital effort not enough

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Friday, September 23, 2005    allblacks.com    Photosport

It was tenth time unlucky for Wellington, who also came tantalisingly close two years ago in Christchurch with a 38-all draw.

Five penalties from the boot of Canterbury fullback Ben Blair ultimately saw the holders home.

Earlier, eight strong opening phases created a prime scoring opportunity only for the challengers to knock on. Indeed, Wellington’s first-half bounty of possession and territory threatened to evaporate in a volley of loose passes... until halfback Piri Weepu broke blindside on the halfway chalk and chipped cleverly ahead.

Replays showed No 14 Lome Fa'atau successfully grounding the ball and the TMO agreed: 5-0 Wellington.

Their efforts at the breakdowns boosted by the return of All Black No 6 Jerry Collins - and his hard-working partner in the loose Ben Herring - the boys from the capital continued to dominate, their hopes lifted by the unusual sight of Blair’s first penalty attempt sailing wide of the posts.

Wellington No 10 Jimmy Gopperth didn’t make the same mistake: 8-0. But a sweet break from his opposite Cameron MacIntyre led to the homeside’s first points of the night, a penalty in the 25th minute. Finding form, Blair soon added a second.

A flourish from the visitors in the dying minutes of the first 40 helped Gopperth add another three points, although at times a try went begging.

Halftime score: 11-6 Wellington

Canterbury continued to claw back the deficit with Blair’s third penalty in the 47th minute. Gopperth replied with his third and the kicking exhibition continued as Blair landed a fourth.

14-12 Wellington as kicking of the aimless kind saw the match lose a little shape... local hero Caleb Ralph forced from the field after a power-hit from lock Ross Filipo. Yet Wellington's two-point margin remained in place until Blair brought up 100 points for the 2005 Air New Zealand NPC season – and handed Canterbury the lead in the process.

Fifteen minutes remaining. However, that same Wellington backline that had earlier looked to play such an expansive game now disappeared into its shell, and the Shield-holders capitalised.

Finishing strongly, Canterbury dominated this match just when it counted the most - pinning the challengers inside their 22 and keeping a stranglehold on their one-point lead with some relentlessly tight textbook rugby... 21 unanswered phases sealing the result.

Canterbury must now defend the Shield against Auckland in a fortnight.

Final score: 15-14 Canterbury

Scorers

Canterbury. Penalties: Ben Blair (5)
Wellington. Tries: Lome Fa’atau. Penalties: Jimmy Gopperth (3)

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