Taranaki hold off Waikato
NPC SPOTLIGHT: It was a grandstand finish in the ‘Battle of the Bovine’ with Taranaki clinging on for a nail-biting 34-29 win over Waikato at Yarrow Stadium.
The slippery conditions in New Plymouth did little to stem the attacking instincts of either side with 10 tries scored in a high-energy clash for the Ryan Wheeler Memorial Trophy.
Taranaki looked to be cruising at 34-15 up with 15 minutes to play but Waikato stormed back with two quick tries before having a third – and match equalling – try denied by the TMO.
Although Taranaki walked away with maximum points, they will be disappointed to let Waikato back into the game after holding such a commanding lead.
The tone of the match was set up in a breathless opening seven minutes which saw just one stoppage in play. Taranaki had the majority of the ball but it was Waikato who struck first through a moment of brilliance from speedster Sevu Reece. The electric wing spotted a gap in the Taranaki defence and raced forty metres downfield before feeding loose forward Mitch Jacobsen for the opening try.
Taranaki boast a backline that can score from anywhere on the park, but it was their forwards who took all the credit for their first try. After showing their might at scrum time, the Taranaki pack built slowly towards the Waikato line before Leighton Price crashed over from close range to even up the game 7-7 after 20 minutes.
Waikato re-gained the lead through a Dwayne Sweeny penalty but it was short-lived as Taranaki took control with two tries late in the first half. The first came when halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi made a scything run from the base of the scrum to set up Charlie Ngatai. Moments later, promising pivot Stephen Perofeta showed his attacking flair to finish off a Declan O’Donnell break and make it 19-10 at the break.
The hosts picked up where they left off in the first half with a try to centre Sean Wainui after some slick hands from the Taranaki backline.
Wainui’s try was Taranaki’s third in ten minutes and could have easily broken Waikato’s spirit. But the Mooloos were having none of it and struck back when powerful loose forward Jordan Manihera caught Taranaki’s defence napping to make it 24-15.
Manihera’s try quickly began to look like a blip on the radar as Taranaki scored two tries in the space of three minutes to stretch their lead to 34-15 with just ten minutes to play.
Waikato were in no mood to give up and stormed back into the game with another two tries to Manihera. Trailing by just five points and pressing on Taranaki’s line, it looked like Waikato had snatched the game when Jacob Skeen powered over. Referee Nick Briant ruled an on-field try but it was overturned by the TMO due to obstruction.
Taranaki held their nerve in the closing stages to cling on for the tense victory. For Taranaki, Stephen Perofeta was exceptional at first five-eighth while props Angus Ta’avao and Mitchell Graham were a tower of strength up front.
Tries: Leighton Price, Charlie Ngatai, Stephen Perofeta, Sean Wainui, Seta Tamanivalu, Beaudein Waaka
Cons: Marty McKenzi 2
Tries: Jordan Manihera 3, Mitch Jacobsen
Cons: Dwayne Sweeny 3
Pen: Dwayne Sweeny