Canterbury captain wants sixth NPC title

FIVE ON THE TROT: Canterbury captain George Whitelock with the NPC trophy.
FIVE ON THE TROT: Canterbury captain George Whitelock with the NPC trophy.

With a well-deserved beer at his feet and an exhausted yet jubilant look on his face, George Whitelock vowed he would be back to help Canterbury attempt six consecutive national provincial rugby titles next year.

The tireless loose forward and captain stared longingly at that beer as he faced media on Saturday night just moments after his side had rewritten the history books with a 31-18 win over Auckland.

Nobody had ever managed five titles in a row. Auckland went close twice (1987-90 and 1993-96), and when Canterbury won their fourth last year people started to think the impossible may just happen.

Now it has and Whitelock has been a key part of the whole drive.

He's the sole survivor from the Canterbury side that started the run back in 2008 and has been in charge of the team since 2009. "That makes me sound pretty old," he said.

" Just reflecting now it's pretty amazing, five years in a row being No 1.

"I'm lost for words really, it's awesome. I'll be back next year."

But Saturday night was a complete Canterbury team effort.

Not just from the 22 guys who took to the field, but from the 10 who were sitting in the stand injured and the coaches who have moulded them.

Auckland tossed everything at them in the opening 30 minutes of the game and apart from Hadleigh Parkes' fourth- minute try they managed only 11 points.

"We knew they were going to bring something," coach Tabai Matson said.

"And they did and we battled for the first 30 minutes but we focused on containment. We knew if we could contain them we would have a chance."

Every big game has turning points and for Canterbury there were two.

The first came when Telusa Veainu was given 10 minutes in the bin for deliberately knocking a ball forward in an attempt to shut down a likely-looking Auckland attack.

"I don't think it was a penalty but it saved us seven points, so that was a game changer."

Just minutes later Tom Taylor was lining up a conversion down the other end of the field after he scored his second try of the first half on his way to a 23-point haul for the match.

"Going into halftime just in front by a little bit was the difference. We went in, we consolidated, we knew that we still had full tanks.

"We really had belief in what we were doing. We had faith that if we hung in there that we had more resolve to clamber over the top at the end. There were nerves but there was a destiny there too."

The title win was the culmination of a fine season for Matson who was handed the Canterbury reins when Rob Penney departed earlier this year.

He has brought his own flair to the table along with assistants Scott Robertson and Aaron Mauger but the Penney mentality has been well maintained.

"To win five in a row this team will be tagged. Every player, every coach and every physio - we will be known as the dominant team that's won five in a row.

"For me it's an absolute highlight. No-one can take this away from this group of players. They are a part of history."


Canterbury 31 (Tom Taylor 2, Telusa Veainu tries; Taylor 2 conv, 3 pen; Tyler Bleyendaal drop goal) Auckland 18 (Hadleigh Parkes, Lolagi Visinia tries; Gareth Anscombe conv, 2 pen) HT: 15-13.

The Press