Canterbury down Taranaki in extra-time
They endured 100 minutes of Taranaki onslaughts, overcome injuries, playing out of position and some interesting officialdom - but Canterbury rose to the top yesterday to claim the home final in the National Provincial Championship premiership final next week.
Canterbury coach Tabai Matson called it one of the best rugby semifinals ever, Sky TV commentator Richard Turner lost his voice and 44 rugby players were left with nothing in the tank.
But Canterbury's class shone through as they turned around a 27-all scoreline at fulltime and add a further 24 points in extra time to send a gallant Taranaki back to New Plymouth.
It became not just a game of rugby, but a war of attrition.
And for any detractor of the competition in its current format, this was rugby's best possible rebuttal.
The game had everything.
They ran, they tackled, they fought and they beat each other up.
And then, after 80 minutes of rugby, they did it all again for another 20 minutes.
"If that wasn't one of the greatest semis ever played, then I don't know what is," Matson said.
"We played a team that absolutely got the best out of us, and the last 20 was what these guys prepare for.
"We actually prepared all week for the what ifs . . . we knew there was going to be some weird stuff in there and there was and we prevailed, which is great.
"I couldn't be prouder of a performance in a red and black jersey, it was outstanding."
In the end the scoreline flattered Canterbury.
Wyatt Crockett grabbed his second for the match early in the first half of extra time, then captain George Whitelock barged over to put the game beyond doubt.
But fittingly it was Jordan Taufua who had the last word.
A Tasman Mako for most of the season, Taufua was recalled to Canterbury this week and celebrated his try the Mako way.
"I was really pleased to see him give the Makos sign when he scored, hopefully it was seen as a gesture of thanks to our Crusader brothers," Matson said.
"But I did tell Jordan that if he scored a try I would cook him tea this week, so it looks like I'm cooking."
The concern now for Canterbury is a growing number of injuries - especially in key positions.
Ryan Crotty was ruled out before kickoff, meaning a rejig in the backline, but there also looks to be serious concerns around Tom Taylor and Adam Whitelock.
Taylor has an ankle strain, and Whitelock was left groggy after a head knock early in the match - and Matson's early prognosis wasn't good.
Canterbury 51 (Wyatt Crockett 2, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Jordan Taufua; Tom Taylor 1 conv. 5 pen, Tyler Bleyendaal 3 conv. 1 pen.)
Taranaki 27 (James Marshall, Jason Eaton, Chris Walker tries; Beauden Barrett 1 conv. 1 pen.)
Halftime: 18-17 Fulltime: 27 all
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