Was the 2000 final the greatest NPC game ever played?

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However, since 2000, Canterbury have won the NPC Premiership 11 times, Wellington have lost nine finals (7 Premiership, 2 Championship) in the same period. 

Canterbury beat Wellington in the 2004 (40-27), 2008 (7-6), 2009 (28-20) and 2013 (29-13) deciders. 

Wellington last won the NPC Premiership in 2000 when they beat Canterbury at a sold out Lancaster Park, Christchurch, 34-29. 

With a staggering 36 internationals, including 29-past, present, or future All Blacks, the 2000 NPC final is arguably the greatest NPC match ever played.

The ‘Match of the Century’ between Canterbury and Auckland in Christchurch in 1985 featured 23 All Blacks.

Canterbury was so strong in 2000 that their entire starting XV were All Blacks, except Marika Vunibaka on the right wing who played two World Cups for Fiji.

It was a contrast in styles, the formidable Canterbury pack against the vibrant and lethal Wellington backs. 

Wellington made an electric start skipping out to a 13-0 lead in the first 10 minutes. Two penalties from David Holwell and a converted try to Jonah Lomu from a pinpoint Jason 'O'Halloran kick were the source of the Lions' points. 

The visitors were guilty of ill-discipline as they struggled to match the Canterbury forwards in the tight exchanges. A series of penalties from Andrew Mehrtens and Ben Blair kept Canterbury within reach but it was always Wellington who looked the more likely try scorers.



Lock Inoke Afeaki had the last say of the first half following a vintage break from Christian Cullen where he found space by changing angles multiple times. Wellington led 20-12 at halftime.

Early in the second half brilliant counterattack saw O’Halloran score an 80-metre try combining with Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga. 

ESPN Rugby captured what happened next:

“A great Lomu try down the left. O'Halloran seized upon loose ball in the centre of the field, fed lock Dion Waller who sent a magnificent pass to the giant winger. He was one on one with Marika Vunibaka, took him on the outside, fended and dragged him over the line as the Fijian came back for another go. Classic Lomu which seemed to have sealed the match.”

Down 34-15, Canterbury rallied with a series of relentless attacks. Mehrtens and Todd Blackadder scored converted tries within the space of three minutes to reduce the gap to five points with about five minutes to play.

Referee Paul Honiss awarded five penalties in injury time and sin-binned Waller for deliberately knocking on. But somehow the defence held, and Wellington had their first title since 1986. After losing half of their first six games, Wellington won five in a row. 

Wellington: 34 (Jonah Lomu 2, Inoke Afeaki, Jason O'Halloran tries; David Holwell 4 con, 2 pen) Canterbury: 29 (Andrew Mehrtens, Todd Blackadder tries; Ben Blair 2 con, 4 pen; Mehrtens pen). HT: 20-12.

2000 NPC Final Teams

WELLINGTON (15-1): Christian Cullen, Brad Fleming, Tana Umaga, Jason O’Halloran, Jonah Lomu, David Holwell, Jason Spice, Jerry Collins, Kupu Vanisi, Rodney So’oialo, Dion Waller, Inoke Afeaki, Morné van der Merwe, Norm Hewitt (c), Kevin Yates. 

Reserves: Mike Edwards, Shane Carter, Semo Sititi, Milton Ngauamo, Riki Flutey, Paul Steinmetz, Alama Ieremia.

Coach: Dave Rennie 

CANTERBURY (15-1): Ben Blair, Marika Vunibaka, Mark Mayerhofler, Daryl Gibson (c), Caleb Ralph, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Sam Broomhall, Scott Robertson, Reuben Thorne, Norm Maxwell, Todd Blackadder, Greg Somerville, Mark Hammett, Greg Feek. 

Reserves: Dave Hewett, Matt Sexton, Chris Jack, Dallas Seymour, Ben Hurst, Nathan Mauger, Afato So’oalo.

Coach: Robbie Deans