Cantabs tame Lions to win sixth straight title
Canterbury's continuing reign is Wellington's seemingly endless pain.
The red and blacks extended their run of national provincial championship titles to six-straight with a typically clinical and stubborn 29-13 win over a Lions side that will be added to the province's long list of silver medallists.
There was an unfortunate air of inevitability as an engrossing final played out in front of 15,070 hopeful, but ultimately, resigned locals.
Incredibly, Wellington has now lost seven NPC finals since their last victory in 2000, three of them to their southern nemesis. Their body language at fulltime told the story.
Few will argue Canterbury were deserving winners, adding second half tries to Ryan Crotty, Tyler Bleyendaal and captain George Whitelock after trailing 10-7 at halftime.
It was close throughout, but the visitor's had two tries denied by the TMO, the second highly debatable after Luke Whitelock appeared to have forced the end of the ball on the line.
Those decisions didn't matter in the end as the red and black machine built a 19-10 lead, then closed down the Lions attack.
Wellington never threw the towel in, Lima Sopoaga breaking the line, then closing the gap to seven with a penalty, but Canterbury are vice-like when they get a lead.
When Tom Taylor kicked a penalty to restore the nine point buffer with 12 to play, only the most optimistic Wellingtonian felt deep down a miracle finish would play out.
Canterbury openside White-lock was superb as were the rest of his forwards, particularly at the breakdown where they constantly slowed, stole or gained penalties from Wellington's inaccuracy in the second half.
Wing Patrick Osborne, Crotty and halfback Andy Ellis were others to shine, the latter showing all his experience during a tight first 60 minutes, a stark contrast to his opposite Frae Wilson, who will have nightmares about the two errors that led to Canterbury tries, the first a mistimed grubber, the second a wayward pass that was spilled by first five eighth Lima Sopoaga.
The first half was befitting a final, tense and evenly fought as both sides tried to get the upper hand.
Wellington played territory, while Canterbury's pack did all it could to score a psychological blow up front.
There was an early try to Ellis, but it was born of Osborne's individual brilliance rather than any firm hold on the final.
Osborne scooped up Wilson's kick, fended Charlie Ngatai then regathered his own chip before palming a one hand pass to the ever-present Ellis for a 7-0 lead after 10 minutes.
But the real battle wasn't on the scoreboard just yet.
The visitor's drove from a lineout, but were repelled.
Crotty dabbed away in the midfield, but found the home side's counter-ruck was up to the test. Taylor lost the ball as he stretched for the line.
Sopoaga negotiated a penalty, but Wellington found their moment, a lineout in the southern corner on the half hour mark.
It would take five minutes, but eventually they had their reward. Prop John Schwalger went close, lock Mark Reddish was held up over the line and No 8 Victor Vito charged repeatedly.
Finally, openside Ardie Savea swooped on a quick ruck ball and put Sopoaga over for the try. Wellington led 10-7, but it was short lived as Canterbury slowly but surely gained the upper hand and applied their all-too familiar choker hold.
Canterbury 29 (Andy Ellis, Ryan Crotty, Tyler Bleyendaal, George Whitelock tries, Tom Taylor 3 con, pen) Wellington 13 (Lima Sopoaga try, Sopoaga con, 2 pen). HT: 7-10