Fantastic five for Cantabs

Canterbury won their fifth successive New Zealand domestic title when they beat Auckland 31-18 on Saturday.

Tom Taylor scored 23 of Canterbury’s points to break the New Zealand record for the most points scored in a final. The fullback was initially in doubt to play, but after passing a late fitness test, he contributed two tries, two conversions and three penalties.

Indeed, Canterbury’s chances of winning this encounter were also in doubt during the initial stages. The first half belonged to Auckland, and it was a combination of poor Auckland finishing and determined Canterbury defence that saw the hosts leading 15-13 at the break.

The Auckland forwards generated plenty of momentum early on, and this in turn created try-scoring chances. They converted an opportunity in the fourth minute, with Hadleigh Parkes diving over, but their subsequent surges into the Canterbury 22 ended in frustrating turnovers.

They had a fantastic opportunity to take the game away from Canterbury in the 33rd minute. A fantastic build-up had resulted in a three-on-one overlap out to the left. A score at this stage may have taken the score to 20-7 in favour of the visitors, but unfortunately for Auckland, Canterbury wing Telusa Veainu got a hand in the way of the final pass and killed the movement.

It may have robbed Auckland of a potential seven-pointer, but they were still in command when referee Glen Jackson yellow-carded Veainu’s for a deliberate knock-down.

Unforgivably, Auckland failed to take advantage.In fact, it was the team without the momentum and without the full 15-man contingent that seized the initiative.

Taylor scored his second try before halftime, and then added a penalty right after the break to take Canterbury’s short-handed tally to eight points. Meanwhile, Auckland had failed to score any points while Veainu was in the bin.

From here, Auckland panicked, running from everywhere, forcing the pass and making elementary handling and kicking errors. This played into Canterbury’s hands, as they capitalised on the turnovers and slowly turned the screws. Taylor kicked another penalty, while flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal followed with a well-struck drop goal.

Canterbury landed the killing blow when Veainu scored on the hour and Taylor added the extras. This took the score to 31-13 with less than 20 minutes left to play. It was a gap the disjointed and dispirited Aucklanders were never going to close.

The victory marks Canterbury’s fifth successive domestic title, which is another New Zealand record.