Canterbury retained the Ranfurly Shield with a 31-21 win over Northland on Saturday in Christchurch in the Air New Zealand Cup.
It was considerably more dominant a victory than it sounds; the Cantabs dominated the first half yet were hit by two sucker-punches from Northland's excellent openside Joel McKinty and so were left to fight far harder late on than they should have been.
Northland's refusal to lie down though, made life for the holders distinctly unpleasant and there will be unsatisfied murmurs at the indiscipline that kept Northland in the hunt.
Canterbury opened the scoring after just five minutes, with David Holwell missing touch from a penalty, Tu Umaga-Marshall running the ball back well, and Stephen Brett producing a pinpoint kick for Sam Whitelock popping up on the left to score.
Brett's touchline coversion was equally pinpoint and the hosts and holders had a 7-0 lead.
Brett extended that to 13-3 with two pena,ties to Lachie Munro's one, but then, after a rare period of continuity, McKinty popped up in the middle to take a ball from Holwell on a terrific line, sidestep Colin Slade, and score under the posts.
Brett restored the lead to six, but on Northland's second foray into the Canterbury 22 - they spent two minutes in the opposition 22 to Canterbury's eight in the first half - saw McKinty cut back and take a pop pass on the short side for his second. Munro, with a shot for the lead, just pulled the ball to the left from the touchline, leaving the score 16-15 at the break.
Canterbury started the second half with a bizarre try, catching Northland completely unaware with a quick line-out and with Sean Maitland sauntering home in acres of space.
Brett missed the conversion and missed a sitter of a penalty after 53 minutes too as the Cantabs sought to press home their significant advantage in terms of territory. Andy Ellis was also culpable of error, dropping a pass in a tackle as he looked to give the scoring offload.
Instead it was Munro who kept Northland within distance with his second penalty of the afternoon, drawing the scores level with his third just before the hour mark.
Canterbury's discipline was atrocious, and not only in deed; at one point Bryce Lawrence could quite clearly be heard saying: "when are you going to realise I am not interested in your moaning? Do what you are supposed to do." Northland sniffed the biggest upset of all in a season of shocks to date.
But in the nick of time, Canterbury strung nine phases of front foot possession together, and the ball went wide to give Tim Bateman the crucial try, with Brett converting.
Northland put up a stiff challenge to find another score, but the game - and the Shield - had got away, and Brett denied them a bonus point with a late drop goal.
Tries: S. Whitelock, Maitland, Bateman
Cons: Brett 2
Pens: Brett 3
Drop goal: Brett
Tries: McKinty 2
Pens: Munro 3
Canterbury: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman (c), 11 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andy Ellis; 8 Ash Parker, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Peter Borlase, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Andrew Olorenshaw, 18 Nasi Manu, 19 Aaron McCoy, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Chris Small, 22 James Paterson.
Northland: 15 Jared Payne (c), 14 Simon Munro, 13 Damien Fakafanua, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Lachie Munro, 10 David Holwell, 9 Rhyan Caine; 8 Cameron Eyre, 7 Joel McKenty, 6 Roy Griffin, 5 Cam Jowitt, 4 Daniel Goodwin, 3 Karl Haitana, 2 Mikaele Tuu'u, 1 Bronson Murray.
Replacements: 16 Tim Dow, 17 Matt Wallis, 18 Pat O'Conner, 19 Matt Clutterbuck, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 David Holwell, 22 Jon Elrick.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence