Canterbury win sixth ITM Cup in a row
Canterbury won their sixth successive ITM Cup title when they beat Wellington 29-13 in the final in Wellington on Saturday.
It was more heartbreak for Wellington, who haven't won the competition since 2000, but a superb second half performance secured the victory for Canterbury.
The visitors raced into an early lead when Andy Ellis scored the opening try in the 10th minute. The All Black scrum-half was the beneficiary of superb work in the build-up from Patrick Osborne, who stunned the cover defence when he regathered his own grubber kick, inside Wellington's 22, before throwing an inside pass to Ellis who scored an easy try under the posts.
Tom Taylor added the extras but three minutes later the home side opened their account when Lima Sopoaga kicked a penalty after Luke Whitelock was penalised for a ruck infringement.
Canterbury thought they had extended their lead when Taylor burrowed over from close quarters but referee Chris Pollock ruled that he lost the ball while going over the line and disallowed the effort.
Wellington tried gallantly to strike back and their decision to kick for touch in the 31st minute, when awarded a penalty within goal-kicking range, seemed to be a huge error when John Schwalger and Ardie Savea were both held up when they went over the try-line.
Captain Victor Vito's decision was justified, however, when from the ensuing scrum Sopoaga spotted a gap in Canterbury's defence and glided through it before scoring his side's only try.
He succeeded with the conversion and the sides went into the break with the hosts leading 10-7.
Canterbury hit back early in the second half when, after a sustained period of pressure on Wellington's try-line, Ryan Crotty scored in the right-hand corner after running onto a long pass from Osborne.
Taylor's conversion attempt was wide of the mark but Wellington had a chance to take the lead when Sopoaga lined up a shot at goal, after the visitors' forwards strayed offside at a ruck, but his effort veered to the right of the uprights.
Canterbury upped the ante and were dominant for the next 10 minutes. Joe Moody and Luke Whitelock were both held up over the line, thanks to great covering tackles from Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Vito respectively, but the visitors were eventually rewarded when Tyler Bleyendaal scored from close quarters.
Adam Whitelock was initially stopped inches away from the line but Bleyendaal pounced when the centre placed the ball backwards and scored his side's third try with little resistance from the home side.
Taylor added the two-pointer before Sopoaga struck back with another penalty, shortly afterwards, to narrow the gap to six points in the 68th minute.
Wellington stepped up a gear but mistakes crept into their game as they went in search of victory. Just after his place-kick, Sopoaga was pinned for holding onto the ball on the ground, just outside his 22, and Taylor restored Canterbury's nine-point lead from the kicking tee.
Canterbury put the final nail into the home side's coffin in the 79th minute, when captain George Whitelock burst through two tackles to score his side's fourth try after Marcel Cummings-Toone did well in the build-up with a barnstorming run which had Wellington's defence at sixes and sevens.
Taylor succeeded with the conversion and the visitors started the celebrations while the dejected Wellington players and supporters could only contemplate what could have been
Pens: Sopoaga 2
Tries: Ellis, Crotty, Bleyendaal, G Whitelock
Con: Taylor 3
Wellington: 15 Charlie Ngatai, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Frae Wilson, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Api Naikatini, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Reggie Goodes, 17 Eric Sione, 18 Kaipati Gaualofa, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Tomasi Palu, 22 Joe Hill.
Canterbury: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Luke Whitelock, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Luke Katene, 4 Joel Everson, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Marcel Cummings-Toone, 17 Paea Fa'anunu, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Rob Thompson, 22 Colin Slade.
Referee: Chris Pollock
Put your money where your mouth is