Alama Ieremia’s first year in charge of Auckland has ended in dramatic fashion.
A home crowd of over 20,000 were treated to an unforgettable spectacle that injected life back into the competition and will go down as one of the greatest finals in provincial rugby history.
It took Auckland 100 minutes of play as they marched to a thrilling overtime victory over Canterbury, securing their first provincial title since 2007 and their 17th all-time, robbing the visitors of a tenth title in the last eleven seasons.
Canterbury dictated play in the early stages, dominating possession and territory. Rewards were slow to arrive, but they eventually did in the form of a penalty from new All Black Brett Cameron and a penalty try after pressuring Auckland close to the line.
Auckland’s star Number Eight Akira Ioane was shown a yellow card after the infringement, and Canterbury capitalised in his absence.
Canterbury fullback George Bridge crossed for his side’s second try just minutes after Ioane’s binning after a beautiful inside ball from centre Braydon Ennor, but the short-handed Auckland erased the score shortly after, with quick-thinking captain taking a quick tap and finding centre Tumua Manu on his inside for a score under the posts.
Ieremia’s Auckland side refused to lay down despite facing a 20-7 halftime deficit, with Ioane scoring a try after the break that would spark a remarkable comeback.
The home side had the chance to steal victory after working for an incredible 33 phases close to the line. They were unable to set up a drop-goal attempt and the final siren sounded with scores still locked.
The sides traded scores in the first overtime period, with Auckland dotting down next to the posts as the siren sounded.
The title is a great reward and signifier of how far this Auckland side has come in 2018. Under Ieremia’s tutelage the province have successfully gone from just one point away from relegation to national champions.
Ioane was a workhorse for the home side, carrying 20 times for 79 yards and a try while loose forward partner Evan Olmstead was a standout on the defensive end. The Canadian international led all players with 14 tackles – with none missed – and two turnovers won in the number six shirt.
Luke Whitelock was a linchpin for Canterbury, racking up 23 tackles and winning three turnovers of his own.
Canterbury will rue missed opportunities as they were unable to match Auckland’s intensity in the second spell, with possession statistics reversing over the final 60 minutes.
AUCKLAND 40 (Manu, Ioane, Trainor, Clarke, Sosene-Feagai, Fukofuka tries; Plummer 4 cons) CANTERBURY 33 (Penalty Try, Bridge, Sanders tries; Cameron 2 cons, 4 pens) HT 7-20
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