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Canterbury Tipped To Retain Title In Final Replay

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Canterbury Tipped To Retain Title In Final Replay

Wellington, Nov 1 NZPA - Having been up close and personal with both Air NZ Cup rugby finalists, Southland halfback Scott Cowan is well placed to offer an insider's take on the likely outcome of the final next Saturday.

Cowan is tipping Canterbury's defence to win the day against Wellington in Christchurch, a prediction he bases on his and his team's experiences within the past fortnight.

Southland were tipped out of the playoffs race when Wellington beat them 34-21 in their semifinal here last night, the home team's high octane 80-minute performance ultimately proving too much for the southerners to keep pace with.

Nine days earlier Southland put 50 years of misery behind them to beat Canterbury 9-3 in a rousing Ranfurly Shield challenge in Christchurch.

But Cowan still thinks Canterbury will retain the title they won last year when they held off Wellington 7-6 in the final.

Wellington have contested the last three finals but came away empty-handed on each occasion and Cowan reckons more of the same is in store for coach Jamie Joseph's team.

"Canterbury are really intense on the D (defence) while Wellington have showed they are pretty awesome on attack," he said.

"But as we've shown this year, defence wins games so I'd back Canterbury."

Fresh from their shield setback, Canterbury rebounded in style last Friday night to eliminate Hawke's Bay 20-3 on the back of a clinically efficient performance.

Wellington, too, were impressive in halftime Southland's progress, a dominant scrum and swift ball movement giving them a decisive 19-7 lead at halftime.

But Southland then turned the game on its head with tries to Cowan and centre eighth Kenny Lynn within a five-minute period shortly after halftime.

Cowan's was a stunner from 50m out when he pinched the ball from the grasp of his opposite Alby Mathewson and scampered clear against the run of play while Lynn finished off a breakout from second five-eighth Jason Kawau from inside his own 22.

But Wellington did not flag and continued to play at pace, and a late brace of tries to substitute hooker Dane Coles were hammer blows to Southland's hopes.

Pivotal to Wellington's success was Piri Weepu, who directed play well at first five-eighth as well as landing seven-from-nine for a goalkicking return of 19 points.

Weepu will be monitored closely this week as Wellington management strive to get one more game out of the All Black, who is battling an ankle injury which will require surgery.

Joseph gave his players today and tomorrow off to rest their minds and bodies ahead of what he knows will be a stern test in Christchurch.

Canterbury certainly showed they are up for the challenge after efficiently dismantling Hawke's Bay.

The defending champions scoring three unanswered tries to lodge a deserved win, unlocking the Hawke's Bay defence at key moments to make the difference in an even, error-filled match.

Locks Sam Whitelock and Isaac Ross scored in the first half to help Canterbury to a 12-3 halftime advantage but it was a brilliant try to first five-eighth Stephen Brett 10min after halftime that knocked the stuffing out of the visitors.

From one of many Hawke's Bay attacking turnovers, the ball was moved quickly to winger Sean Maitland, who found Brett on his inside after a scorching 60m burst.

Both teams struggled for clean breaks after that, with Hawke's Bay particularly lacking a cutting edge to match their forward endeavour on attack.


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