New Zealand Cup final 2007
Glory for all-conquering Auckland
NZPA
October 20, 2007
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Date/Time: Oct 20, 2007, 19:35 local, 06:35 GMT
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Auckland 23 - 14 Wellington
Keven Mealamu (L), Isaia Toeava and Jerome Kaino of Auckland celebrate with the trophy after winning the Air New Zealand Cup Final between Auckland and Wellington at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand on October 20, 2007.
Auckland celebrate with the 2007 New Zealand Cup
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Auckland extended Wellington's finals heartache and matched the deeds of their class of 1990 by ending their all conquering season with a tense 23-14 Air NZ Cup victory.

Their famed composure showed signs of deserting the now 16-time provincial champions during the second half of a titanic struggle at Eden Park.

But a 71st-minute penalty by Isa Nacewa, while Auckland had Troy Flavell in the sinbin, gave the Ranfurly Shield holders the breathing space to notch their 13th consecutive win and farewell a dozen departing players in appropriate fashion.

For the first time since Gary Whetton's Auckland squad 18 seasons ago, a New Zealand province ended the season unbeaten and with ownership of the shield.

Wellington, meanwhile, experienced the contrasting emotions with their fourth runnersup medal from a quartet of final appearances.

Auckland's cause was not helped by Flavell's temporary dismissal; a case of mistaken identity by referee Chris Pollock when Kurtis Haiu appeared the culprit at a ruck.

Flavell went to the sinbin in the 65th minute, 13 minutes after his arrival from the bench, and seven minutes after Pollock issued Auckland captain Sam Tuitupou with a warning for persistent infringing.

But the telling penalty was awarded nine minutes from fulltime when Pollock pinged Rodney So'oialo at the breakdown and Nacewa calmly slotted his third second-half penalty.

Earlier, Auckland appeared to be on course for a comfortable win despite playing into swirling drizzle.

A brisk breeze at their backs barely advantaged Wellington with Jimmy Gopperth's angled 45m penalty their only return until mobile lock Jeremy Thrush lifted flagging spirits with a try three minutes before the break to trim the deficit to 8-14.

Thrush initially fielded a clearing kick on his 22m line and then showed great awareness to follow Corey Jane's chipped return before Thomas Waldrom and Jane gave him some space on the right flank.

Handed the ball 15m out, the lock pirouetted to dummy past Taniela Moa and had enough pace to dive over in the tackle of Benson Stanley.

The unconverted try gave Wellington some impetus after Auckland looked to mirror their wet weather demolition of Hawke's Bay in last weekend's semifinal.

Facing misty rain shortly after kickoff Auckland started ominously, building nine phases before the first break in play as their accuracy and ball security belied the conditions.

Auckland also built early dominance at the set piece, disrupting halfback Piri Weepu's scrum feed and calling into question the decision to omit World Cup prop Neemia Tialata.

The home side maintained their expansive approach and were rewarded in the 22nd minute when Jay Williams displayed top finishing skills when he slid into the left-hand corner despite attention from Jane and Tom Harding.

Auckland's 48th try of the campaign encapsulated their approach with the ball swiftly being transferred laterally after No 8 Brad Mika stretched the defence on the opposite corner.

Nacewa added the sideline conversion and three minutes ranged up in support to complete another superbly executed incision after Daniel Braid snaffled a turnover on the 22m line.

Brent Ward released David Smith, who beat two defenders before the fullback took a return pass and slipped a perfect offload to Nacewa, who scampered over in the corner.

Auckland appeared in control at 14-3 after 25 minutes and although they dominated the collision area, Thrush's try gave Wellington the filip they required -- a momentum they maintained when they returned from the dressing room.

Nacewa added the first points after the break via the boot as he and Gopperth traded penalties but when Gopperth struck the goalpost to spare Auckland further punishment for Flavell's alleged indiscretion the contest swung Auckland's way.

The World Cup All Blacks' made telling impressions -- Isaia Toeava started at centre after Ben Atiga cried off with a hamstring strain while hooker Keven Mealamu added some stability when he came on with Flavell in the 53rd minute.

Wellington got great value from Rodney So'oialo's arrival after halftime, as the No 8 helped the visitors gain some parity at the breakdown before he conceded Auckland's late relieving penalty.

Centre Conrad Smith provided a mixed second-half cameo, three times being guilty of losing the ball during promising attacking thrusts as the clock wound down.

Tuitupou paid tribute to his team.

"Each week I have asked the boys to step up to the mark and they have.

"To finish the season unbeaten is just tremendous work."

Wellington Piri Weepu said his side lost to a superior team.

"The better team won on the day, they were much hungrier than what we were.

"We tried our best until the last minute but obviously we didn't get the result we wanted."

Auckland 23 (Isa Nacewa, Jay Williams tries; Nacewa 3 pen, 2 con) Wellington 14 (Jeremy Thrush try; Jimmy Gopperth 3 pen). Halftime: 14-8.

© NZPA

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