Wellington and Canterbury set for final showdown

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The four seasons since Canterbury last claimed the title is their third longest period without the trophy in the competition's history, surpassed only by the period of 1984-1997 when Auckland won 10 of the 13 titles, and from 1977 to 1983.

Canterbury's great period between 2008-17 saw its winning sequence broken only by Taranaki's win in 2014.

Three of Wellington's four titles were won between 1978 and 1986.

Canterbury first five-eighths Fergus Burke's 24-point haul against Bay of Plenty lifted him to a share of the top scorer position on 139 points with Bryn Gatland, and with the final ahead, an opportunity to finish the highest points scorer in the final.

Wellington first five-eighths Jackson Garden-Bachop's 15 points against Auckland, from a try and five conversions, lifted him to 94 points for the season while Auckland five-eighths Harry Plummer ended the season on 90 points.

Bunnings NPC semifinals


Wellington 54 Auckland 19

Wellington took only four minutes to stamp their imprint all over this semifinal, and Auckland could do little in response. Clever hands from flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi allowed wing Julian Savea to put his strength to use to score in the corner. Pushing Auckland's scrum off the ball four minutes later produced a fortunate bounce of the ball from a Garden-Bachop chip ahead and the man on the spot, second five-eighths Riley Higgins, scored the second try, the first of two he scored on the night. Hooker Asafo Aumua crossed after a bullocking sideline run in the 25th minute and then Garden-Bachop strode easily through vacant real estate in the Auckland defence to give Wellington a 26-0. The solitary try Auckland could muster came from untidy Wellington ruck ball which was pillaged by halfback Taufa Funaki before he passed to supporting flanker Niko Jones who had too much speed to be denied the try.

Prop Marcel Renata gave Auckland some early impetus to set up a drive which brought a try for No8 Jackson Pugh within a minute of the restart. But that was about the end of Auckland's response. It took Wellington another 14 minutes to regather themselves with halfback TJ Perenara bursting over from a goal-line ruck to score, and was followed by wing Pepesana Patafilo soon after when the Auckland defensive line was breached again. Lock Patrick Tuipulotu got one try back. However, Wellington scored twice in the last five minutes, through Higgins and fullback Ruben Love, getting past 50.

Wellingon 54 (Julian Savea, Riley Higgins 2, Asafo Aumua, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara, Pepesana Patafilo, Ruben Love tries; Garden-Bachop 5 con; Aidan Morgan 2 con) Auckland 19 (Niko Jones, Jackson Pugh, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Harry Plummer 2 con). HT: 26-7

Canterbury 24 Bay of Plenty 10

It was always going to take something special for Bay of Plenty to succeed, they haven't won in Christchurch throughout the NPC competition which began with a Bay of Plenty win in 1976, and Canterbury were not in a mood to let their opportunity slip. BOP first five-eighths Wharenui Hawera got his side on the board first with a penalty goal, but two missed opportunities allowed Canterbury to kick two goals of their own through first five-eighths Fergus Burke. By the end of the first quarter, the home team had absorbed the anticipated assault from the northerners, and in the 33rd minute, a blindside move from a scrum eight metres out allowed Burke to throw a dummy and score wide out. BOP had a chance five minutes into first-half injury time, but Canterbury flanker Tom Christie pulled off a breakdown steal for a crucial play.

Big prop Tamaiti Williams twice denied BOP chances with goalmouth turnovers as they pushed hard at the start of the second half. But after some outstanding play by fullback Emoni Narawa, Canterbury were unable to deny flanker Naitoa Ah Kuoi who got them back in the game at 11-10 in the 51st minute. But Canterbury put their pack to use and that provided second five-eighths Rameka Pohipi with an opening which he raced through, linked with flying hooker Brodie McAlister, who then slipped a pass to Burke on his shoulder for his second try, the game-breaker as it proved. Desperation, and Burke, proved BOP's enemy in the final quarter as he landed two more penalty goals to ensure Canterbury would host next weekend's final.

Canterbury 24 (Fergus Burke 2 tries; Burke con, 4 pen) Bay of Plenty 10 (Naitoa Ah Kuoi try; Wharenui Hawera con, pen). HT: 11-3