A hectic week got off to a bad start for Taranaki last night as they fell to Championship side Hawke's Bay in the last few seconds of the match.
Staring down their second draw in as many weeks after Marty McKenzie snuck over to level the scores at 26-26, Taranaki were their own worst enemies as they made mistakes, put themselves under pressure and conceded a drop goal to the impressive Ihaia West to lose 29-26 at McLean Park.
In some ways it was a heartbreaker. In others it was probably deserved as the visitors were the architects of their own demise.
They created plenty of opportunities but lacked the composure and skill to press it home.
When they were put under pressure they conceded soft penalties instead of backing their defence, while their attack lacked maturity and patience.
"I'm disappointed," a clearly frustrated Colin Cooper said after the match. "We had a lot of opportunities but we failed. We failed to convert our line breaks, we failed with our continuation of the game, particularly in that first half."
Taranaki had looked set to finally break the shackles on a perfect night for rugby.
The cold, crisp air must have felt like heaven after the conditions they encountered a week ago at Yarrow Stadium and it looked like they were going to click into gear when Seta Tamanivalu crossed in the opening 10 minutes.
A turnover, virtually from the kick off, gave the home side a sniff and they took it easily as Taranaki's cover defence was non existent.
Still, Taranaki kept working away and kept putting points on the board with Codey Rei nailing a number of penalties, despite missing an easy one.
They should have gone to the break with a lead but switched off in the last five minutes.
That let Hawke's Bay score out wide and when West landed a 50m penalty on the buzzer you sensed Taranaki was in trouble going into the last 40 minutes.
Hawke's Bay came out with a lot more purpose but again failed to turn key field position into points.
It got messy, too, as both sides made endless errors and new referee Mike Lash allowed far too much illegal play to carry on at the breakdown.
Hawke's Bay fullback Ryan Tongia looked to have won it for the home side when he crossed for his second try but to Taranaki's credit they came back with a try of their own to McKenzie.
With the scores tied Taranaki should have closed it out but they couldn't, leaving Cooper frustrated at their performance.
"We threw too many 50/50 passes, so that was disappointing," he said.
The veteran coach did not know why his players were lacking the required patience or skill, especially with their passing.
That was poor for most of the night and led to a number of clear chances being squandered.
Cooper would not bite on Lash's performance other than to say he needs to get up to speed at this level, a clear hint he was not happy.
He repeated that he was most annoyed about the team's game more than anything and it is clear there is a lot of work to do if Taranaki are to survive another season in the Premiership.
Despite the clumsiness of their play at times, Cooper felt it was only little things letting them down.
"One dropped ball, one little mistake," he said. "But that let them back in the game."
Whatever happens before Wednesday's match away to Waikato, Taranaki have to find a harder edge, especially up front, while they need to improve their passing, kicking and option taking. That would only come through training, Cooper said.
Hawke's Bay 29 (Ryan Tongia 2, Richard Buckman tries; Ihaia West 3 pens, con, dg) Taranaki 26 (Seta Tamanivalu, Marty McKenzie tries; Codey Rei 4 pens, con, McKenzie con)
- Taranaki Daily News
What did you make of this year's ITM Cup?