Canterbury clinch NPC title
Chrsitchurch - A commanding forward pack and a late penalty by Stephen Brett sealed a 28-20 victory for Canterbury over Wellington in New Zealand's provincial rugby championship final at AMI Stadium on Saturday.
Canterbury, the defending champions, had built up a strong 18-3 lead by half-time which slow-starting Wellington had reduced to 25-20 with two minutes remaining before Brett put the result beyond doubt.
Starting without senior members Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and six other members of the All Blacks on tour in the northern hemisphere, Canterbury showed they still had too much depth of talent for Wellington.
They made an explosive start, ending two minutes of unbroken play from the kick off with fullback Colin Slade scampering 60 metres for a try.
Slade was one of the standout performers for Canterbury, scoring two tries and proving to be rock solid in the face of a constant aerial bombardment from Wellington.
But, when he was sin-binned with 15 minutes remaining, Wellington capitalised on Canterbury being a man down by scoring 10 quick points through a penalty to Piri Weepu and a converted try by Scott Fuglistaller.
Slade's return to the field, with Canterbury clinging to a five-point lead, turned the game again as they swept downfield in the closing minutes for Brett to land the decisive penalty.
The Canterbury forwards were a telling point in the game as they controlled the turnover ball.
A steal by lock Sam Whitelock put Slade away for his first try, and his second, just before half-time, came from a backline move after a series of forward rushes forced Wellington into a corner.
Two penalties by Brett and one by Weepu rounded out the first half scoring.
Alapati Leuia scored Wellington's first try midway through the second half and Canterbury replied immediately with their third by wing Sean Maitland before the flurry of scoring from both sides in the closing stages.
Tries: Colin Slade (2), Sean Maitland
Conversions: Stephen Brett (2)
Penalties: Brett (3)
Tries: Alapati Leuia, Scott Fuglistaller
Conversions: Piri Weepu (2)
Penalties: Weepu (2)
Referee: Vinnie Munro (NZL)