2013 review: Cantabs claimed Wellington's turf

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013
Canterbury NPC champions
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

WHAT A HOOT: Canterbury bellow out their victory chant after winning their sixth consecutive NPC title.

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Rugby conqueror George Whitelock rammed a flagpole into Wellington's turf, and Shane Christie uncoiled a roll of barbed wire around Trafalgar Park.

Whitelock, of course, was the grim-faced leader of the Canterbury side that claimed their sixth NPC premiership title, while Christie was the chap who marched Tasman to their dramatic win over Hawke's Bay in the championship final in Nelson.

Following the 29-13 victory over Wellington, Whitelock and his crew marched into the middle of the Cake Tin and plunging their colours into the ground.

Tasman's public celebrations, by comparison, were not so colourful.

Maybe that was because they had already done all their entertaining in the preceding 80 minutes. It proved an epic match in which the final result hinged on a late conversion by Magpies playmaker Ihaia West.

West missed from the sideline an Tasman's 26-25 win elevated them into the premiership for next season.

Christie didn't physically surround Trafalgar Park with barbed wire but, metaphorically speaking, that is what Tasman have done. Nelson is their fortress, and coach Kieran Keane will be urging his players to retain their prickly attitudes when they contest the top tier next season.

The Tasman story is tailor-made for those who like to champion the underdog.

A few years ago, the New Zealand Rugby Union wanted to rub Tasman out, believing they couldn't cut it financially among the big boys. The Kremlin have been proved wrong on all counts.

Canterbury never faced such heat from the NZRU but new coach Scott Robertson must have been sweating as he faced intense pressure to win the NPC crown in his first year. And when Canterbury suffered mid-season losses to Wellington and Auckland, and kept losing key players to either injury or All Blacks duty, Robertson and his backs coach Jason Holland had their issues.

No wonder, perhaps, that Robertson let off some steam after the final by breakdancing like a mad thing at the Cake Tin.

He later apologised to Wellington coach Chris Boyd, stating that he meant no disrespect, but Boyd was probably still wishing he could turn back the clock.

Wellington should have done better but were surprisingly unable to match the ferocity of the Canterbury forwards in the final.

Meanwhile, in the Heartland Championship, Mid Canterbury's decision to recruit former Highlanders coach Glenn Moore was like pouring rocket fuel into the family sedan's petrol tank.

Moore quickly revved things up.

He quickly added a new edge to their setup, increasing his players' self-belief by introducing them to a combination of smart strategies and a professional mindset.

The upshot was that Mid Canterbury beat North Otago 26-20 in the Meads Cup final at the Ashburton Showgrounds. Mid Canterbury handled the wild winds - and that is no exaggeration - far better to put an end to North Otago's seven-match unbeaten streak.

Down the road in Timaru, South Canterbury claimed the Lochore Cup by downing Buller 27-10 to complete a memorable weekend for the Crusaders catchment.

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Canterbury, Tasman, Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury are all members of the Crusaders franchise partnership.

- The Press

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