Canterbury vs Auckland
Jade Stadium, Chch
Saturday 27th Oct, 2001
Referee: Kelvin Deaker
Final Score: Canterbury 53 - Auckland 22
Unlike Auckland's shield challenge two weeks I was a bit nervous about this game, Auckland have been one of the fickle teams in the comp in the last couple of years, capable of pulling out a blinder when you least expect it.
Fortunately today wasn't the day for an Auckland resurgence.
Given the hiding they got two weeks ago (particularly in the second half) I figured they would look to try some different tactics this time around, and they did.
Firstly they didn't name their run on side until the last moment (even the commentators had to speculate on what it would be) and the team that the put out there was obviously picked with one game plan in mind, throw the ball around and try to make something happen!
A back three of Orene Ai'i, Doug Howlett (M.D) and Malilili Muliana is built for counter-attack and with tugboat Tanivula causing confusion (for everyone!) in the midfield alongside Soane Tonga'uiha and Carlos running the circus the backline certainly had the potential firepower to cause some havoc.
And for the first couple of minutes it look like it just might work, Dougie Howser tore a huge opening in the Canterbury backline with an awesome line break, but Auckland weren't able to turn it into points, and really that was the best attacking opportunity Auckland had in the entire half.
Conversly Canterbury weathered the Auckland attack, waited for the mistake and then clinically worked play back into Auckland territory and took their scoring chances. By half-time the scoreline was 24-3 to Canterbury and the game was all but over.
Just to confirm that is was game over Canterbury struck twice in the first 5 minutes of the second half and stretched the score out to 36-3. At this point wholesale substitutions started on both sides and Canterbury were definitely guilty of losing some concentration on defence, which gave a gallant Auckland team the chance to do some scoring of their own.
Dougie scored their first try on the end of some slick passing from veteran Eroni Clarke and the ToffeePop kid, and then Keven Mealamu failed to ground the ball properly in what should have been another 5 pointer. Steve Devine then scored a sneaky try down the touch line after and free kick to make it 36-15.
Canterbury seem to snap out of it at this point back on attack Aaron Mauger throws a Carlos style (marginally, well, ok blatantly forward!) no-look inside pass to Ben Blair on the break who makes the final pass for Justin Marshall to score under the posts. And if that wasn't enough they score again two minutes later when Joe Maddock (the young winger who is keeping Afato and Marika off the park) makes a great break, and shrugs off the tackle of Dougie to score in the corner.
This takes the score out to 48-15, and definitely snuffs out any ideas of a miracle comeback from the Blue and Whites.
Tummyvula and Ralph score a try each in the dying minutes to give us the final score of 53-22, a record number of points conceeded for the Auckland province in NPC rugby. (Only 3 points more than they conceeded at Eden Park to the Cantabs in 1998 though!)
Yet again the entire Canterbury squad played wonderfully. Standout's for me were:
So that's one finalist decided, let's see if Otago can make it a south island final!