Canterbury will travel to Wellington for next weekend’s Air New Zealand Cup final after defeating Hawke’s Bay 31-21 in Christchurch.
It was a tense match that was only decided by a quick two-try burst by the home side midway through the second half.
Even when they went behind twice in the first half, Canterbury remained composed to quickly get back on level terms.
Then after the break they withstood a fierce onslaught from the Magpies and forced the turnovers which eventually led to tries for Michael Paterson and captain Kieran Read that put the game beyond Hawke’s Bay’s reach.
Canterbury fly-half Colin Slade followed up last weekend’s impressive display with another assured effort scoring one try, kicking four conversions and a penalty.
He was willing to attack the line and showed plenty of grit on defence, especially when he stopped lock Bryn Evans from grounding the ball during the Hawke’s Bay fight back.
There was nothing to split the two sides at half-time except the injury count.
Canterbury wing James Paterson lasted just a minute before being forced from the field with a nasty-looking knee injury.
He was joined on the sidelines by scrum-half Andy Ellis, who limped off with a knee problem with 34 minutes gone, which could be a worry for New Zealand coach Graham Henry with the end of season tour looming.
In his final match for the Magpies, Danny Lee’s career with Hawke’s Bay also came to a premature end when he knocked himself out while preventing Canterbury hooker Corey Flynn from scoring a try in the corner just before half-time.
While Canterbury may have been ahead in the casualty stakes they were forced to come from behind twice on the scoreboard during the opening 40 minutes.
Hawke’s Bay took the lead through flanker Karl Lowe when he took a quick free-kick close to the Canterbury line and caught their defence napping.
Matt Berquist slotted a difficult conversion to put the visitors 7-0 up with 12 minutes gone.
The home side were quickly back on level terms though when a break by Slade set up a try for Ellis which the fly-half then converted.
Lowe was over again for his second on 25 minutes after a scrappy passage of play resulted in Evans collecting an intercept pass that allowed the Magpies to pile on the pressure which Lowe eventually turned into points.
Berquist was again on target with the conversion.
But the Magpies allowed Canterbury back in almost immediately when they failed to gather the re-start and put themselves under pressure.
Slade eventually made them pay when he slipped a tackle to dive over and his conversion tied the scores at 14-14.
Canterbury should really have taken the lead into the break however, but Isaac Ross lost the ball close to the line before Lee’s heroics denied Flynn.
Opportunities were few and far between in a tense 20 minutes immediately after the break.
Hawke’s Bay came the closest to getting across the line but saw two chances go begging when first prop Faka Taumalolo lost the ball forward close to the line, then flanker Michael Johnson knocked on after number eight George Naoupu was hauled down a couple of metres short by Scott Hamilton and Ellis’ replacement Tyson Keats.
Then, as so often happens, Canterbury took the game by the scruff of the neck and after being under sustained pressure they turned the tables on Hawke’s Bay to score two tries in quick succession to take a 28-14 lead.
First lock Michael Paterson raced under the posts after a lovely angled run by wing Paul Williams wrong-footed the defence to put Paterson into space.
And two minutes later captain Kieran Read dotted down after Hamilton hacked on a loose ball, gathered it and fired the pass inside to his skipper.
Hawke’s Bay went close to reducing the deficit on 69 minutes when Evans charged down a kick but he was tackled by Slade and the fly-half and centre Tim Bateman prevented the huge Magpies lock from grounding the ball.
Slade then kicked a penalty to make it 31-14 before Evans deservedly got his try in the closing minutes, which Berquist converted.