Premiership final preview: Auckland v Canterbury

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Friday, October 26, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Match details: Saturday October 27, 4.05pm at Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Glen Jackson (Bay of Plenty)
Played: 101 (1883-2018)
Wins: Auckland 48, Canterbury 48, Drawn 5
Last match: Auckland 34 Canterbury 29 (September 16, 2018)


There are all sorts of statistical oddities and delights heading into this 27th top tier provincial final.

Perhaps the most telling is that Auckland, the most successful Ranfurly Shield union and still holding the most provincial titles (16), is coming up against the nation’s top province of the professional era.

Canterbury has 14 titles to its name, 12 won in the last 21 years. Since 2008 it has clinched nine of the last 10 crowns, an astonishingly consistent rate of achievement given the current landscape. Furthermore, the sole occasion it has lost a final was in 2000 when Dave Rennie’s Wellington edged the win in Christchurch. Auckland has lost twice to Canterbury, in the 2012 and 2015 finals. Both teams were intensely close rivals in the 1980s, prior to the advent of the playoffs system.

Auckland’s last title was in 2007 on the back of an unbeaten season under Pat Lam. Since then, Auckland’s travails have unfairly been heaped with those of the Blues, but other than 2016-17, the union’s flagship team has always been more than competitive.

Funnily enough, both teams are on 48 wins in head to head match-ups, a stark indication of how storied and tight this rivalry has been since 1883.



Luke Whitelock versus Akira Ioane.

Both No 8s are catching planes for the north on Sunday. Whitelock is heading for Japan to link up with the All Blacks, while Ioane flies to Chicago to front for the Maori All Blacks. Both men are very different footballers, but of equal value to their provinces. Ioane is coming off a man of the match display in the semifinal against Wellington, his explosiveness off the scrum a key plank in Auckland’s game. Whitelock is solid as a rock, especially defensively, in any team for whom he plays.


Auckland will be in the box seat if the match is tied up at fulltime.

The home side defeated Canterbury 34-29 in the regular season last month, so the first three tie-breaker rules will apply:

1.The winner following a further 10 minutes of extra time each way
2.The team scoring the most tries in the match (including extra time)
3.The winner of the round-robin match played that year between the two teams


Canterbury coach Joe Maddock, in his first year at the helm, has, barring two defeats, proved his worth. He was happy with what his team brought against Tasman, but it will have to do it again at Eden Park.

“We were really impressed by the resolve the team showed, particularly in the second half of that semifinal last week under a lot of pressure. This is a young side that has been building nicely all season and working hard for one another to reach this stage of the competition,” says the former Canterbury wing.

Auckland head coach Alama Ieremia has come so far in such a short time with this team, but he is not counting his chickens.

“We’re playing a team that’s had massive experience in finals, so I’ve got no doubt this will be our toughest game. We’ve got to make sure we really prepare because there is no tomorrow, and I know the players have been focused on that every week so far,” he says.

Auckland hit Canterbury hard and early, in both the set-piece and at the breakdown, last month, in one of its best displays.

The Auks also had captain TJ Faiane in hat-trick tryscoring form. Another tremendous semifinal display in casting aside Wellington 38-17 has Auckland fans purring with anticipation. There is again a settled look to the line-up.

Canterbury wore down Tasman 21-16 in last weekend’s other semi, skipper Mitch Drummond leading the way with a brace, in an admirable display of controlled, pressure, finals rugby. Loosehead prop Alex Hodgman, against his native union, comes in for Joe Moody in the sole change to the starting XV. Canterbury has four quality lineout options, so will look to dominate in that vital area.

While it will be interesting to see what sort of crowd turns up at Eden Park, given the event is free entry – surely unprecedented for a provincial final – there is incentive to get along early, as Kiwi band The Feelers, brought to the game in association with major sponsor Barfoot and Thompson, will be performing from 3.20pm and at halftime.

Jordan Trainor, Melani Nanai, Tumua Manu, TJ Faiane (c), Salesi Rayasi, Harry Plummer, Jonathan Ruru, Akira Ioane, Adrian Choat, Evan Olmstead, Michael Fatialofa, Fa’atiga Lemalu, Marcel Renata, Robbie Abel, Sam Prattley
Reserves: Mike Sosene, Jarred Adams, Marco Fepulea’i, Taleni Seu, Hoskins Sotutu, Leon Fukofuka, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Caleb Clarke

Canterbury: George Bridge, Josh McKay, Braydon Ennor, Phil Burleigh, Caleb Makene, Brett Cameron, Mitch Drummond (c), Luke Whitelock, Billy Harmon, Reed Prinsep, Mitch Dunshea, Luke Romano, Sef Fa’agase, Nathan Vella, Alex Hodgman
Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Harrison Allan, Chris King, Tom Sanders, Tom Christie, Ere Enari, Sam Beard, Ngane Punivai