Ruthless Canterbury rewrite history books
NZ provincial rugby - year-enderMATT MARKHAM
The challenge was set for Canterbury to create history - and they did it in style.
Five consecutive national provincial championship titles was an unheard of feat, only Auckland had gone close with four wins on the trot twice, but Canterbury rewrote the books with one of their most dominant seasons on the rugby field.
Under new coach Tabai Matson, who was elevated after the departure of Rob Penney, the red-and-blacks were ruthless, scoring 58 tries in 12 games and averaging 42 points a match.
The backline ran with width, speed and power while a relatively young tight five stood up and were counted against some much more experienced opposition.
There were blimps however, the Jordan Taufua loan agreement in which they called him back from Tasman in the week leading up to the semi-final was ugly, the first round loss to the same team and a missed Ranfurly Shield chance over Taranaki will still hang as low points.
But at the other end of the spectrum, names like Johnny McNicholl, Ben Funnell and Dominic Bird being shoved into the limelight mean the future is in good hands.
They were the best this season. Undoubtedly. But the rest of the pack is chasing hard and teams like Auckland, Wellington, Waikato and Taranaki look to be closing the gap.
Counties Manukau set the nation alight with their razzle dazzle style to win the Championship title over a much improved Otago who, considering their financial woes a year ago, did a good job to feature.
The smaller unions will be happy to see the NZRU have reviewed the format of the competition with changes set for 2013.
The request was put forward by eleven of the 14 provincial unions with only Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland stating they were content with the current format.
Next year the new round-robin, which lasted seven weeks in 2012, will be stretched to nine and the competition is set to kick-off a week earlier.
Provincial rugby's most sought-after prize - the Ranfurly Shield - was held by Taranaki for a good portion of the season before it was handed over to Waikato after they romped home over their neighbours late in the season.
In the Heartland Championship, East Coast ended a golden run for Wanganui with a last minute try in the final in Ruatoria to claim the Meads Cup while Buller claimed honours over South Canterbury in the Lochore Cup.
- Fairfax Media
Will Counties Manukau defend the Ranfurly Shield all season?