A 78th minute Rebecca Todd try has earned Canterbury their first Farah Palmer Cup, after seven final defeats. The experienced No 8's 78th minute try and Kendra Cocksedge's superb sideline conversion earned a 13-7 win at Pukekohe.
Rebecca Todd scores the championship-winning try in the 78th minute
Canterbury may have finished second in the regular season, but most of their struggles had come early in the season when their Black Ferns were largely absent. Once restored to full strength they had become the team to beat, accounting for final opponents and holders Counties Manukau in week 4.
Coached by Wayne Love and former Black Fern Melissa Ruscoe, Canterbury dominated possession throughout most of the match, but as the game moves its close it looked like Counties' intercept try from Lanulangi Veainu might be enough to retain their title. But they kept their nerve and got their reward when Todd dummied and squirmed over the line for the game breaker.
It was a sweet victory for Cocksedge, and captain Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox, who had suffered the heartbreak of losing multiple finals.
Cocksedge, who had experienced five final defeats, was delighted. "First title ever!”, she said. "I do believe we deserved to win that. These girls have worked hard over the last eight weeks."
Te Ohaere-Fox, playing in her seventh final, said it was "good to finally get the hands on the trophy. It took us to some dark places in the final, but we got through it."
Coach Wayne Love said it was "a great reward" for his players and "great for Canterbury rugby, full-stop" to have the men's and women's titles. He admired the way his charges "stuck at" and never lost their belief despite falling behind to the intercept try.
"We had a lot of territory, but their defence pushed up and they did really well and didn't let us go forward and move it out wider as we've done all season. But, we got over the line, there was no panic about it.”
With Cocksedge and fly-half Charntey Poko controlling play, Canterbury looked the more enterprising side against a Counties side content to rumble the ball up with pick-and-go players featuring their big tight forwards. Counties, on the other hand, suffered from ill-discipline with a large penalty count, and had two players sinbinned.
Canterbury squandered a couple of try-scoring opportunities before Cocksedge finally got the scoreboard moving with a 38m penalty goal in the 34th minute.
In the second half Counties lost midfielder Timara Leaf to a 42nd minute high tackle on Canterbury wing Grace Brooker. Nonetheless Counties produced one of their best chances when powerful frontrowers Leilani Perese and Aotearoa Matau combined for a series of surges, swatting away defenders like flies.
However, just as the line was looming, Canterbury's Lucy Anderson ripped the ball from a Counties claw and the opportunity was lost.
Canterbury doubled their lead in the 53rd minute when Poko dropped a goal on a penalty advantage
They had another numerical advantage when Counties lock Harono Iringa was sinbinned for a late and high tackle on Cocksedge. But just after the second rower had left the field, Counties pounced.
Canterbury were seeking to exploit an overlap on the outside, but hooker Jessie Hansen's intended pass to lock Alana Bremner, was intercepted by Veainu, who scampered 40m to score under the posts.
Fullback Hazel Tubic, whose tactical boot had kept Counties in the game, converted for a 7-6 lead.
Olivia McGoverne, Canterbury's fullback, came close to scoring, but the match officials ruled she had placed the ball on the sideline chalk and Counties escaped with a 22m dropout.
But it didn't matter because Todd touched down when it ultimately counted.
In the day’s other game Bay of Plenty won promotion to the Premiership after a nail-biter, played in pouring rain at Blake Park in Mount Maunganui.
Bay had easily topped the Championship table, but this was a far closer game than any they had experienced in the regular season.
All of the points came in the first half. Wing Sapphire Tapsell scoring the opened the scoring for Bay of Plenty in the first half, with first five-eighth Crystal Mayes successfully kicking the conversion, while Otago's sole score came courtesy of a try from Greer Muir.
The second half went well beyond 80 minutes and Otago Spirit were only finally thwarted when they gave up a penalty just centimetres away from the tryline.
Premiership Final: Canterbury 13 (Rebecca Todd try; Kendra Cocksedge pen, conv; Charntey Poko dg) beat Counties Manukau 7 (Lanulangi Veainu try; Hazel Tubic conv). HT: 3-0.
Championship Final: Bay of Plenty 7 (Sapphire Tapsell try, Crystal Mayes con) Otago 5 (Greer Muir try) HT: 7-5