Taranaki roar in stunning record Waikato win
It took 13 days and three matches for Taranaki to finally hit their straps in the national provincial championship.
Last night's record 46-17 win over Waikato not only made sure Taranaki banked five much needed competition points, it secured the Ryan Wheeler Memorial Trophy and, maybe more importantly, gave the side plenty of confidence.
It was a win built on a complete team effort, coupled with some superb performances from the likes of Marty McKenzie, James Broadhurst, Jamison Gibson-Park and Blade Thomson.
Twenty minutes before kickoff it appeared the record for the lowest crowd to watch a NPC match involving Taranaki - 300 at Mt Smart against Counties in 2007 - was going to be lowered.
If ever the New Zealand Rugby Union needed another reminder of how much damage they are doing to provincial rugby then the fish heads only had to look into the stands at Waikato Stadium.
For two neighbours with a history stretching back to 1921, it somehow did not make sense to be playing on a Wednesday night because this performance from Taranaki deserved a bigger audience.
Not that it seemed to bother Taranaki after they got off to a great start, creating early try scoring opportunities, stealing a Waikato lineout and winning a penalty after they destroyed the opposition scrum.
However, Taranaki were soon under pressure, as they slipped back into making the sort of mistakes that have cost them in their opening two matches - they lost their own lineout, turned over possession and gave away a needless penalty, which Waikato converted as Wharenui Hawera matched McKenzie's early effort.
Opportunities continued to be lost, though, as Rhys Marshall was time and again asked to throw to the back of the lineout, an area he has struggled with all season.
When he was asked to throw it shorter, Taranaki opened the scoring, Waisake Naholo busting over after a couple of switches of direction.
Despite being given plenty of space and opportunity, the visitors could not add to their score until McKenzie crashed over following some patient lead-up work, something Taranaki had struggled with against Hawke's Bay five days ago.
When McKenzie strolled over after a simple blindside move it was suddenly 24-3 with six minutes left in the first half.
It was not entirely perfect from the first five-eighth, though, as he missed the chance to make it 27-3 before the break when he missed a penalty right in front of the posts.
Still, such was Taranaki's domination he got another shot a couple of minutes later and the sides went to the break with the score as it should have been.
To put the halftime score into context, Taranaki had only scored more points against Waikato five times over 80 minutes in 79 matches in 93 years.
They had never been 24 points up at halftime, either.
Maybe it brought too much confidence because they made a meal of a good turnover three minutes after the restart, Seta Tamanivalu gifting Declan O'Donnell a try after some sloppy handling.
That gave Waikato the impetus they needed as Taranaki put themselves under pressure from some poor kicking. Soon a miracle pass by returning All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow put Joe Webber in at the corner to suddenly make the score 27-17.
The comeback was short-lived, especially after Taranaki got their game back, scoring through Jackson Ormond and Tamanivalu to take them to within three points of a record score against Waikato.
They got that right on the buzzer when Naholo crossed again to end an unbelievable night.
Taranaki 46 (Marty McKenzie 2, Waisake Naholo 2, Jackson Ormond, Seta Tamanivalu tries; McKenzie 4 cons, 2 pen, Codey Rei con) Waikato 17 (Declan O'Donnell, Joe Webber tries; Wharenui Hawera 2 cons, pen). HT: 27-3.
Taranaki Daily News