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NPC : Auckland break Canterbury's grip on title
Huw Turner
October 18, 2002

Auckland progressed to this year's NPC final after a stunning 29-23 victory over Canterbury in Christchurch on Friday evening.

They did so by scoring five tries to two and by virtue of a magnificent forward effort in which skipper Xavier Rush, Bradley Mika, Kees Meeuws and Daniel Braid were outstanding. As the Auckland eight smashed their way over the gain line time and again to have the Canterbury defence retreating in disarray, the backs cashed in to devastating effect. Steve Devine was , as ever, a live wire and Carlos Spencer again revelled in the quality of ball he was given. Young second five eighth Sam Tuitupou was in magnificent form outside Spencer, always making good ground through the centre and able to offload his passes to create danger. Howlett and Atiga were sharp on the wings and full back Brent Ward looks a very good prospect - incisive on the counter and elusive in his running.There is no good reason why this side cannot go on to win the first division title and perhaps restore the sort of dominance which Auckland last enjoyed when Graham Henry was last in charge of the side.

Much has been made of the jaded look of the Canterbury side and tonight they looked decidedly weary. They were out-fought, out-passioned, outplayed in most respects. They managed to dominate possession and territory in the opening quarter but found their opponents fierce in defence and once the Aucklanders began to even up the possession stakes there was only one side in it.

Two early penalties from Andrew Mehrtens steadied the Canterbury effort before flanker Daniel Braid scored the first try after 10 minutes. Spencer's conversion gave Auckland a brief lead until Ben Blair ran outside his marker on the left to restore the Canterbury advantage. But in the second quarter it was all Auckland, their forwards make huge inroads into the Canterbury territory to set up tries for Tuitupou and Howlett. This seemed to give the visitors huge confidence and effectively carried them to victory. Leading 17-13 at the break, they were pegged back by Mehrtens' third penalty after 48 minutes but then sealed the game with further tries from Atiga and Collins. They had further good chances to extend their lead until Aaron Mauger scored a late try well into injury time. The margin of defeat was far wider than the 6 points would indicate. For most of the second half Auckland were well in control and thoroughly deserved this famous victory.

Scorers:

Canterbury : 23 : Tries : Blair, A.Mauger. Conversions : Mehrtens, Blair. Penalties : Mehrtens ( 3 ).

Auckland : 29 : Tries : Braid, Tuitopou, Howlett, Atiga, Collins . Conversions : Spencer ( 2 ).


Teams :

Canterbury : Ben Blair, Joe Maddock, Mark Robinson, Aaron Mauger, Caleb Ralph, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Scott Robertson, Richard McCaw, Norm Maxwell, Chris Jack, Sam Broomhall, Greg Somerville, Mark Hammett, Dave Hewett.

Auckland : Brent Ward, Doug Howlett, Sam Tuitupou, Mils Muliaina, Ben Atiga, Carlos Spencer, Steve Devine, Xavier Rush, Daniel Braid, Justin Collins, Ali Williams, Bradley Mika, Kees Meeuws, Keven Mealamu, Scott Palmer

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