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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Blues claim Super 12 crown
Auckland Blues 21-17 Canterbury Crusaders

Carlos Spencer offloads out of a tackle by Justin Marshall
Spencer marshalled the Blues effort
Auckland Blues won their first Super 12 final in six years with a tense victory over Canterbury Crusaders at Eden Park.

The Blues, champions in 1996 and 97, ensured their season-long dominance was rewarded but the defending champions did not give up their crown without a fight.

The Crusaders led 10-6 at half-time after two tries from hooker Mark Hammett, and outscored the hosts three tries to two overall.

But All Black flier Doug Howlett and flanker Daniel Braid crossed for Auckland in the second half, and 11 points from the boot of stand-off Carlos Spencer proved decisive.

Canterbury launched a late onslaught that yielded a try for centre Caleb Ralph, but the Blues held on to take the spoils.

The Crusaders were the first to strike after 18 minutes as the defending champions worked a sweeping blindside move to send Hammett over for his first try.

Blues 21 (5):
Tries: Howlett, Braid
Con: Spencer
Pens: Spencer 3
Crusaders 17 (10):
Tries: Hammett 2, Ralph
Con: Mehrtens
Spencer swiftly replied with a penalty for the Blues, and Daniel Carter wasted an easy kick at goal before Spencer nudged the home side ahead with his second.

But just when it seemed Auckland would lead at the interval, Spencer incredibly dropped a straightforward pass and Hammett rumbled over for his second, after confirmation from the video referee.

Andrew Mehrtens, a first-half replacement, missed the conversion but the Crusaders still led 10-6 at half-time.

Within five minutes of the resumption, however, a flowing Auckland move ended with the prolific Howlett crossing at the corner to extend his Super 12 record to 12 tries this season.

Spencer missed the conversion from a difficult angle, but extended the lead to 14-10 with his third penalty after 53 minutes when Richard McCaw was guilty of obstruction.

Canterbury hooker Mark Hammett barges over for his first try
Hammett barges over for the first of his two tries
The Blues appeared to have made a decisive move with 14 minutes left when, from a line-out take from lock Ali Williams, Braid was driven over by a marauding pack.

Spencer's conversion put the Blues 21-10 up, but the Crusaders refused to surrender and pummelled the Blues line in the closing stages.

Remarkably, Carter, Leon MacDonald and Chris Jack were all held up over the line by sterling last-ditch defence from Auckland, with Howlett's cover tackle on MacDonald decisive.

They finally found their way over with three minutes left when Justin Marshall fed Ralph from a quick tap penalty and Mehrtens' conversion put Canterbury within a try of victory.

But Auckland, marshalled by Spencer, kept their composure to wrest the crown away from the Crusaders.

Auckland: Doug Howlett, Rico Gear, Mils Muliaina, Sam Tuitupou, Joe Rokocoko, Carlos Spencer, David Gibson, Xavier Rush, Daniel Braid, Justin Collins, Ali Williams, Angus Macdonald, Kees Meeuws, Keven Mealamu, Deacon Manu.
Replacements: Lee Stensness, Orene Ai'i, Craig McGrath, Mose Tuiaili'i, Brad Mika, Tony Woodcock, Derren Witcombe.

Canterbury: Leon MacDonald, Marika Vunibaka, Caleb Ralph, Daniel Carter, Joe Maddock, Aaron Mauger, Justin Marshall, Scott Robertson, Richard McCaw, Reuben Thorne, Chris Jack, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Mark Hammett, David Hewett.
Replacements: Scott Hamilton, Andrew Mehrtens, Ben Hurst, Sam Broomhall, Johnny Leo'o, Greg Feek, Slade McFarland.

Referee: Andre Watson

Graeme Moody reports for the BBC
"There was very little between the two teams"

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