Canterbury made it a record five provincial titles in a row with a 31-18 victory over Auckland in this season's ITM Cup Premiership final on Saturday night.
A 23-point haul from fullback Tom Taylor, another record mark, steered Canterbury home during a thrilling and controversial clash at the AMI Stadium with wing Telusa Vaeinu also crossing for a try and fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal adding a crucial drop goal.
Auckland dominated the early stages of the contest and led 13-7 on the half hour mark thanks to a try from centre Hadleigh Parkes and the boot of No.10 Gareth Anscombe. But a 24-point swing then saw the game slip from their grasp with a late try from winger Lolagi Visinia no more than a consolation.
The visitors made the perfect start with a try from Parkes with just two minutes on the clock that was converted by Anscombe. Canterbury hit back with centre Robbie Fruean creating the space for Taylor to notch his first try with the extras pulling his side level.
Anscombe then edged his side ahead once more with two penalties but Taylor was quick to cancel out one of those efforts. But Canterbury were soon down to 14-men when Veainu was sin-binned for an intentional knock-on with Auckland pressing deep inside the home side's 22.
Auckland appeared a little unlucky not to be awarded a penalty try by referee Glen Jackson and in fact it was Canterbury who were soon celebrating a five-pointer. Auckland's faltering lineout gifted Canterbury the ball and a strong run from centre Ryan Crotty gave Taylor the time and space to add his second try and give his side a narrow 15-13 lead at half-time.
Taylor turned the screw with another penalty just after the re-start and he was on target again five minutes later following the return of Veainu. Auckland rallied with the game in the balance but they came up empty-handed while Bleyendaal slotted a long-range drop goal to add to their rivals' woes.
That frustration will have peaked just past the hour when Canterbury scrum-half Andy Ellis pounced for a game-defining interception. Auckland were knocking on the door again inside Canterbury's 22 with scrum-half Alby Mathewson looking to clear the ball from a ruck.
Ellis' initial attempt to lay claim to the ball was thwarted by a firm 'No' from Jackson but the referee's stance softened moments later and the ball was turned over before being cleared downfield. Auckland fullback Charles Piutau was then caught in possession, the ball was turned over and worked wide to Veainu who crossed for a try with Taylor's conversion taking Canterbury out to a 31-13 lead.
Canterbury's impressive defence would deny a now desperate Auckland side time and time again in the final quarter with Visinia's last-minute score not enough to rescue the game.