The quiet build-up may not have helped the home team, neither perhaps did the reported apathy of the home supporters, or the fact their stadium looked liked it had been strategically bombed. It was hardly inspirational. But all the ingredients were there for a great show-down: two sides stacked with All Blacks; fair weather and Murray Mexted's delightfully one-eyed commentary.
If the atmosphere was lacking, Wellington's open attacking style soon injected some life into the game. Within ten minutes, the visitors were 13-nil up as Lomu, having swapped positions with fellow winger Brad Fleming took a well-timed Cullen pass to score in the corner. Canterbury kept in the game through Wellington mistakes and a great kicking game from new recruit Ben Blair.
But the Wellington attack continued to prove effective when it most counted. Afeaki scored for the visitors after another great run and pass from Cullen and Cullen himself almost scored before his team was penalised for over-running interference. Canterbury continued to attack the Wellington line without success.
At half-time it was clear that again Wellington's ill-discipline was costing them, particularly in the forwards. The penalty count was 9-4 against the visitors, and the majority of these came from a few too many hands in the ruck. But with only about 40% of the ball, Wellington was up 20-12 at half-time.
The attack continued by Wellington as the second half began and a couple of genuine try-scoring chances were bungled within the first five minutes, as was a penalty kick by Holwell. The game appeared to be turning around when Canterbury reduced the deficit to five and both Wellington props and Brad Fleming left the field to nurse injuries. In another display of sheer brilliance though, Cullen ran through the Canterbury defence and connected with Umaga who passed to Jason O'Halloran for the third try of the match.
Lomu's try, shortly after this was another classic individual effort, coming from a Vunibaka pass intercepted by the extremely handy O'Halloran. Lomu fended off his opposite several times as he cantered down the touchline, scoring and 'spiking' the ball just as he was brought to his knees. It was now 34-15 and the home side looked well and truly shafted, despite their reputation of playing the 'full eighty minutes'.
And Canterbury did come back. With not much more than ten minutes to go, the veterans Mehrtens and Blackadder scored tries under the Wellington posts, and the visitors spent the rest of the game defending their line and conceding endless professional fouls. But the result is history. Wellington won and will take the big bronze phallus that is the NPC trophy, home.
Having watched the game later, I would just like to voice my complete disgust with the ridiculous way in which the official presentations took place. The obsequious blow-dried tosspot from Air NZ had at least five minutes to mouth off his inanities before the WINNING CAPTAIN was allocated approximately thirty seconds to mumble 'thanks' and how IMPORTANT THIS WAS AFTER FOURTEEN YEARS, before the microphone was removed and the lights were turned off. Piss-poor. They'll get a bloody ticker-tape parade when they get back here anyway.
Congratulations Canterbury on a great final game and on a great season. At least Auckland didn't win anything.