Auckland were unable to end Canterbury’s dominance of provincial rugby as the red and blacks secured their fifth successive title with a 31-18 victory in Christchurch on Saturday night.
Daniel Braid became the first player since Eroni Clarke to play 100 games for Auckland, but unfortunately it was not a game to savour as Canterbury suffocated the visitors in the second half to run out convincing victors.
Auckland left nothing to chance and worked themselves to a stand still as they threw everything they had at their opponents, but they just couldn’t crack the Canterbury defence.
It was Canterbury fullback Tom Taylor who proved to be the Achilles heel for Auckland, scoring two tries and slotting three penalties and two conversions for a personal haul of 23 points to break the record for most points scored in a final.
While they may not have claimed victory tonight, the future of Auckland Rugby appears to be in safe hands with a number of exciting youngsters bursting onto the scene and performing admirably in the blue and white hoops.
In Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Joseph Edwards and Steven Luatua amongst others, Auckland boast some incredible talent and the nucleus of a side that will no doubt continue to challenge for a Premiership title in years to come.
The visitors got off to a dream start to silence the parochial Canterbury crowd with a try to second five-eighths Hadleigh Parkes after just two minutes.
He has been the glue of the backline all season so it was fitting Parkes, who captained the side for much of the season in the absence of Daniel Braid, got his team on the scoreboard first.
Dave Thomas did a splendid job at claiming Auckland’s kick-off, and following a break by livewire fullback Charles Piutau, the ball was recycled as wing Ben Lam flicked out a pass for Parkes who hit the line at pace to go in under the posts.
Auckland looked incredibly threatening with the ball in hand as Lam and Piutau both made inroads through the Canterbury defence, but two misdirected kicks that went out on the full and dead in goal gave the ball back to the opposition in prime attacking real estate.
A quick tap from a Canterbury scrum inside Auckland’s half saw the ball spun wide as bruising midfielder Robbie Fruean got on the outside of Ben Lam and passed inside to Tom Taylor who went over for the try.
Two penalty kicks to Gareth Anscombe gave Auckland a 13-7 lead at the half hour mark before Taylor struck back with a penalty kick of his own.
Auckland should then have scored a fine try with a massive overlap but a cynical knock down by Telusa Veainu denied the visitors a five pointer as the Canterbury winger earned himself 10 minutes in the sin bin for his trouble.
However Auckland were unable to turn the one man advantage into points, and instead it was the hosts who struck a killer blow on the stroke of halftime.
From a stolen lineout, the ball was spun wide to Ryan Crotty who brushed off a tackle and passed to Taylor who scored for his second try of the night to give Canterbury a slender 15-13 lead at the break.
Canterbury looked to exert their dominance in the second half with two further penalty kicks to Taylor and a drop goal to Tyler Bleyendaal.
Auckland’s first championship since 2007 was slowly slipping from their grasp and as they were forced to play catch-up rugby, it backfired badly.
Piutau tried to spark his side into action with a run inside his own 22, but he was caught by the swarming red and black defence, and as the ball was turned over and spun wide, Fruean stepped inside his man and passed to Veainu who went over in the corner.
Lolagi Visinia managed to score a consolation try on fulltime, but it was too little too late as Canterbury celebrated their fifth championship victory in a row.
Canterbury 31 (Tom Taylor 2, Telusa Veainu tries,Taylor 2 con, 3 pen, Tyler Bleyendaal drop goal)
Auckland 18 (Hadleigh Parkes, Lolagi Visinia tries; Gareth Anscombe con, 2 pen)