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Canterbury defeat Auckland to reclaim ITM Cup Premiership crown

Canterbury have claimed their 12th national provincial championship title, and their seventh of the ITM Cup era, with a determined performance to withstand the challenge of North Island powerhouse Auckland.

The red-and-black, the minor premiers after winning nine of their 10 home-and-fixtures, losing only to 2014 champions Taranaki Bulls, made a lightning start to lead 12-0 in as many minutes, and 19-7 inside the opening quarter, but Auckland fought back to lead for the first time with half-an-hour to play before Tom Taylor kicked a penalty for the hosts, the final points of the game, to reclaim the advantage with 12 minutes to play. Auckland continued to press, but Canterbury were not for breaching again and the hosts reclaimed the silverware when the visitors conceded a penalty after running the ball from their own in-goal area after the siren.

Canterbury scored in the second minute, when Patrick Osborne scored in the corner, and they led 12-0 inside 10 minutes after Auckland lock Scott Scrafton had been sent to the sin-bin for a tip tackle on Johnny McNicholl; Luke Whitelock won a lineout and Dominic Bird exploited Scrafton's absence and ran to the line unopposed to score an easy try.

Auckland hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate put the visitors on the board five minutes later, after a lineout drive and a series of pick-and-goes, but Ryan Crotty restored the hosts' advantage almost immediately. Osborne made a strong run infield to set up a midfield ruck from which Canterbury moved the ball to McNicholl, who passed inside to Crotty to canter clear.

The visitors reduced the deficit to just three points at half-time, after Simon Hickey had kicked three penalties, they third two minutes after the siren, and they hit the front for the first time in the game seven minutes after the interval. Canterbury had extended their advantage with a penalty goal from Taylor, but Auckland flanker Mitch Karpick crossed the whitewash after a series of goal-line drives following a fine chip and chase from Charles Pieta.

Auckland did well to hold out McNicholl and then hooker Ben Funnel before Canterbury centre Rob Thompson bombed an opportunity by dropping the ball in the act of touching down. Taylor then missed a penalty attempt from wide out, but the full-back, playing his last match for Canterbury before joining French second-division club Bayonne, made amends almost immediately after Akira Inane had committed a ruck offence.