Message from mission control to Turbos: "Two massacres in one season just won't do."
Saturday's 59-18 eight-tries Ranfurly Shield slaughter by old foes Taranaki turned from embarrassment to humiliation before ref Mike Fraser thankfully blew for the last time at Yarrow Stadium.
If there is any green octane left in their tanks, the Turbos must expunge memories of it by beating Otago at FMG Stadium tomorrow night.
They got up after being whacked by the almost identical score of 59-16 by Auckland on September 2, bussing to Whangarei and dealing to Northland by 33-20.
Most green fans know they have a low-budget home-grown side here and don't expect them to be Manchester United; but they do expect the Turbos to compete. Even if they miss the silly semifinals, a big fat W would restore their faith.
Auckland, twice, and Canterbury in 2009, have posted half centuries against Manawatu in shield challenges, but they are rugby's big guns.
So much latent hope had been built up backing what we felt was Manawatu's strongest lineup, but they simply melted in the 20.2 degree Celsius heat.
The Turbos brought the most fervent opposition support to the old Rugby Park this season, among the sun-drenched crowd of 10,000.
However, even the bucketheads' chanting melted away in concert with the Turbos' energy and pace as the Taranaki legions simply galloped over for four of their eight tries in the last 14 horrible minutes.
And it almost had green stomachs heaving to see two Manawatu men, perceived to have committed treason by emigrating to Taranaki, Kurt Baker and Andre Taylor, scoring four of the bumblebees' eight tries.
They were not contrite, Baker flipping the bird back at the buckets after his three tries.
To make it worse, it proved that bought teams bring profits. And worse, Manawatu beat most of that mob at Palmerston North last year, even if only by 15-10. But they hadn't won at New Plymouth since 1986.
False hope was provided by the Turbos taking the game to Taranaki for the opening 10 minutes before Taylor scored a softie off a lineout in the 11th minute after that nuisance from Gisborne, pint-sized halfback Jamison Gibson-Park, simply took off.
Already we could read the signs, too many mistakes, rushing passes, missed tackles in the backs and Taranaki blasting in low at the breakdowns and stealing the ball. Manawatu had parity only in the lineouts.
Taranaki's wheeled scrums kept Manawatu's pushers attached and scrambling to stop Blade Thomson when he disengaged.
Halfback Papa Wharewera needed better protection but even he was bumbling all over the place, no less than when he hit a gap and popped the ball. But when Craig Clare kicked for goal, the boos represented respect and at 43 minutes gone and 23-13, the challenge was alive - sort of.
But when Taylor burned off Jason Emery from a nothing kick, it turned into a funeral and Manawatu's errors and spilled ball on first-phase became a pandemic. When Colin Cooper whisked off skipper Craig Clarke, he virtually flipped two fingers at Manawatu who trucked on the subs and the horrible scoring mayhem ensued.
Lock Michael FitzGerald was magnificent in all facets, Crosswell stole lineouts and Callum Gibbins toiled. But on this day, Taranaki seemed to have 30 men out there when they counter-attacked from turnovers.
Turncoats answer buckets with tries
For Kurt Baker, the former Manawatu man wearing Taranaki colours, Saturday's Ranfurly Shield match was the first time he had scored three tries in a rep match.
"They were all seagull tries," he said with a laugh.
But he didn't spare any remorse for his old province. He said he has let the Manawatu issue go now, even if many in Turbos country haven't.
"I'm in the Naki, I've been in the Naki and I'm loving every minute of it. I've changed and it's just another team now."
Even so, he and Andre Taylor were unmercifully barracked by the Manawatu bucketheads on Saturday, as they were in Palmerston North last year.
"It doesn't bother me," Baker said.
"I gave them a fair bit back when we were dotting down so I was pretty happy. It was good. I think it added to the atmosphere."
He has signed for three more years with Taranaki but has been released by the Highlanders and does not have a Super contract.
Former Manawatu player Taylor still entertains an All Blacks jersey and was a lethal weapon for Taranaki.
But he hasn't signed for them again and wouldn't rule out perhaps wearing the Manawatu jersey again.
He copped even more abuse than Baker on Saturday, and admitted it was clearly audible.
- © Fairfax NZ News