Auckland will hope to prevent Canterbury from claiming an unprecedented fifth consecutive ITM Cup title when they meet on Saturday.
Auckland will attempt to prevent Canterbury from claiming an unprecedented fifth consecutive ITM Cup title.
Two of New Zealand's most successful provincial sides over the last 20 years go head-to-head in Christchurch on Saturday. Amazingly though, it's the first time these two heavyweights have met in a final.
Auckland, who share Canterbury's current record of four successive title wins, will have it all to do come kick-off against the hosts who have been in ominous form – piling on 350 points in their past six matches.
Whether they can carry it out in the final remains to be seen though as the three-time defending champions enter the match with a few casualties and some tired troops following last week's semi-final win over Taranaki in extra-time before coming out on top.
100 minutes of rugby was played after the scores were locked at 27-27, before Canterbury pulled away to win 51-27.
It once again showed Canterbury's title credentials and while they may be the favourites, anyone who writes off this Auckland team does so at their peril.
Like Canterbury, the men in blue and white hoops have lost only two games all season and with the likes of Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa and Steven Luatua, they have some of the most exciting young rugby players in the country.
They enter their first final since 2007 after coming from behind to beat Wellington 33-22 in last Saturday's semi in the capital. Trailing 22-14 late in the game, three quickfire tries in the final 23 minutes saw Auckland storm home.
Under no illusions of the task facing his team, Auckland coach Wayne Pivac has noted that chinks have been exposed in the opposition this season and that's what they'll look to exploit.
“We took heart out of that [semifinal] and the Wellington performance in the round-robin play, there was a lot to learn from those performances,” he said.
“It's whether we can front up on the day as well as those sides did, that's the challenge for us.
“They judge their run really, really well,” he added.
“They're scoring a lot of tries and they have the best defensive record, so certainly they're the number one team, and it's for us to go down there and try to knock them over.”
The visitors have welcomed back lock Ali Williams after the 75-Test veteran missed the semi-final win over Wellington because of a back injury, and the 31-year-old All Black feels the key to winning the game will be how well Auckland's defence holds up against them.
“They're going very well and their last four or five scorelines show they're a team that likes to attack,” said Williams, who is likely to be named on Monday in the All Blacks squad for the end-of-year tour.
“They threaten all over the park, from the forwards to the backs and for us, it's not so much about what they bring, it's what we bring.”
Players to watch:
For Canterbury: Whether it's on the wing or at full-back, Johnny McNicholl has been turning heads in the red and black jersey. Standing at 1.85m and weight 96kg, the tournament's top try-scorer is certainly no pushover and has arguably been one of the finds of the season. He has an uncanny knack of being able to break through tackles, despite often being held by more than one player.
For Auckland: Arguably the form full-back of the competition, Charles Piutau has played a starring role in Auckland's campaign from the opening round to the final. Blessed with pace to burn, another big performance from ths exciting back will be key to Auckland's hopes of derailing Canterbury's charge to the title.
Prediction: Auckland enter this match as underdogs, but their fans will be hoping they bring more bite than bark into the match. But we feel the hosts have what it takes to make if a fiver. Canterbury by …five!
Canterbury: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Willi Heinz, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Joel Everson, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Jed Brown, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Matthew Thatcher, 21 Kolio Hifo, 22 Stephen Gee.
Auckland: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Dave Thomas, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Joe Edwards, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Nathan Hughes, 19 Sean Polwart, 20 Wayne Ngaluafe, 21 Simon Hickey, 22 Lolagi Visinia.
Date: Saturday, October 27
Venue: AMI Stadium, Addington
Kick-off: 19.35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Nick Briant
Television match official: Chris Pollock