Canterbury reclaim ITM Cup
Saturday, October 24, 2015 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
But the struggle ended with a penalty conceded by the visitors and the title returning to Canterbury after a one season absence to continue the remarkable record of seven wins in eight seasons in which the side has won New Zealand's provincial prize.
Canterbury's scrum was dominant throughout and put Auckland under plenty of pressure while the experienced hands stepped up with lock Dominic Bird having a significant impact on the game.
Fullback Tom Taylor, who is departing overseas, to continue his rugby career while centre Ryan Crotty was an ever present figure both in defence and attack.
Auckland tried to compensate for their scrum issues by attacking at every opportunity but delivered enough of a performance to suggest that their own taste of success may not be too far away.
The loss of a player to the sin-bin could not have been better demonstrated than when Auckland lock Scott Scrafton was sent for a sit down after a dangerous tip tackle on Canterbury wing Johnny McNicholl.
Auckland were already down 0-5 after a second minute try to wing Patrick Osborne who marked his come back from a calf injury by getting across in the corner. Then soon after Canterbury kicked into the 22m area for a lineout they could not have believed how easy they would score their second.
No.8 Luke Whitelock took the ball and immediately transferred it to Bird who found Scrafton's place in the middle of the lineout hadn't been patched up. He took the gap and set off for the line to score one of the easier tries that will ever come his way.
Canterbury got off-side in their own 22m, Auckland opted for a lineout and after the drive and pick and goes, it was hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate who got the visitors on the board.
Playing into the wind, Auckland tried to run the restart out of their own 22m area but attentive Canterbury defence minimised the chances and when finally making a kick downfield it proved a nothing choice.
Osborne had the chance to run rampant infield and after the midfield ruck was created it was moved to McNicholl, who flicked an in pass to centre Ryan Crotty and he bounded in for Auckland's third, in the 17th minute.
Having landed a penalty after the half-time hooter, Auckland went to the break only three points down.
Canterbury looked as if they would make a sensational start to the second half after Taylor secured ball to send Crotty flying down the sideline for the corner. It took a superb cover tackle by flanker Joe Edwards to stop him just short of the line. Canterbury did secure a penalty goal, but Auckland responded through fullback Charles Piutau whose chip and collect took play to just short of the goal-line.
Several bigger players had a go at driving over the line but it was the lighter flanker Mitch Karpik who marked his fine game by getting the ball home for Auckland to claim the lead for the first time in the game after 46 minutes.
It seemed Canterbury would score after a superb break by first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga who split the Auckland defences and then threw a marvellous pass halfway across the field into the breadbasket of wing McNicholl moving at speed but the cover held then soon after hooker Ben Funnell, out on the flank put a kick ahead and it appeared Thompson would score but he lost the ball as he went over the line.
It took Taylor to step up to land a 67th minute penalty goal, moments after having missed another to reclaim the lead and Canterbury held the Auckland efforts at bay to claim the win.
Scorers: Canterbury 25 (Patrick Osborne, Dominic Bird, Ryan Crotty tries; Tom Taylor 2 con, 2 pen) Auckland 23 (Greg Pleasants-Tate, Mitch Karpik tries; Simon Hickey 2 con, 3 pen). HT: 19-16
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