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The Auckland Lions are the 2006 Bartercard Cup champions.
The Brian McClennan coached side picked up a hard fought 25-18 win over the Canterbury Bulls at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Monday night.
Auckland skipper Steve Buckingham ? who made history this season becoming the first player in the Bartercard Cup to score over 1000 points ? collected the first points of the game with a close range penalty in the 10th minute.
The penalty was the result of a high tackle that also cost the Bulls the services of veteran prop Vince Whare who was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes.
The Lions looked like they were in for their next points moments later when Buckingham burrowed his way over the try-line but referee Craig Pascoe ruled a Bulls player had been taken out of the play and the try was disallowed.
But they weren?t going to be denied in the 18th minute when halfback Kelvin Wright picked up a chip kick and ran 70 metres to score in the corner.
With the ever-reliable Buckingham on target with the boot, Auckland were up 8-0 midway through the first half.
But despite being down one man the Phil Prescott coached Bulls charged back into contention.
A mistake from the kick-off gifted Canterbury possession well inside the Lions? territory.
And they made them pay full price when Clinton Fraser got his hands on a well-weighted kick to open Canterbury?s account.
Scott Hurrell?s conversion reduced the gap to two points.
But it wasn?t long before Auckland struck back.
This time it was hooker Regan Wigg who crashed his way over the Bulls? line.
With the Canterbury defence back-pedalling Wigg showed plenty of skill to drive his way over.
With Buckingham continuing to add the extras the Lions extended their lead to 14-6.
Showing plenty of persistence and experience the Bulls quickly brought the advantage back to two points.
Again it was their kicking game that proved to be the key.
Halfback Duane Wineti put up a good bomb that the Lions couldn?t defuse and as the ball came loose it was Louis Fanene who managed to ground it.
The Lions mounted a number of attacks late in the first half but they couldn?t add any more points going to the sheds at halftime 14-12 ahead.
Another penalty from directly in front of the posts gave Buckingham his fourth goal of the game and the Lions an extra two points inside the first five minutes of the second half.
Auckland pounded the Canterbury defence over the next 10 minutes and it finally paid dividends in the 55th minute when young centre Miguel Start tore through a small hole to crash his way over.
Again Wright ? who was named the man-of-the-match - was in the middle of the action directing the play with the composure of a seasoned veteran.
The talented halfback showed plenty of skill to open up a gap for Start to power his way over.
Buckingham?s conversion and then a subsequent penalty took the Lions out to a 24-12 advantage and gave Canterbury an extremely hard job to do in the final 20 minutes.
But that was the red rag the Bulls needed.
With Lions second rower Sala Fa?alogo in the sin bin for a high tackle the Canterbury attack ignited.
A stunning kick return from Lusi Sione opened the Lions? defence and it wasn?t long before Hurrell shot through to add a try to his personal tally for the night.
Auckland looked to be in trouble as the fitness of the Bulls started to show through.
But with five minutes to run Buckingham again stepped up to the plate to add an extra point to the Lions? score with a beautifully struck field goal which sealed the victory.
BARTERCARD CUP COMPETITION ? GRAND FINAL RESULTS
Auckland Lions vs Canterbury Bulls Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Auckland Lions 25
Tries: K. Wright, R. Wigg, M. Start
Goals: S. Buckingham (6)
Field Goal: S. Buckingham
Canterbury Bulls 18
Tries: C. Fraser, L. Fanene, S. Hurrell
Goals: S. Hurrell (3)
Halftime Score: 14 ? 12 To Auckland Lions
Bartercard Cup All Stars vs Warriors Development Squad
Bartercard Cup All Stars 24
Tries: L. Faleono, T. Tuifelasai, B. Matulino, C. Beverley, A. Tauai
Goals: M. Tuipulotu (1), A. Tauai (1)
Warriors Development Squad 18
Tries: S. Fa?i, C. Mika, I. John
Goals: S. Jones (3)
Halftime Score: 14 ? 12 To Bartercard Cup All Stars