Taranaki rolls Ranfurly Shield holders
Taranaki bolted up to third place in the national provincial rugby championship after grinding previous leaders Southland into the ground with a 23-6 win in New Plymouth.
The match was low on entertainment value but high on aggression and defensive intensity as Taranaki registered four valuable competition points with a deserved win.
They moved to 32 points with their seventh win from 10 matches, four points behind new leaders Canterbury, who have leapfrogged Southland (34 points) at the top of the table.
Southland - the Ranfurly Shield holders - again defended doggedly but offered little on attack and have now gone two matches without scoring a try. They have crossed the opposition's line just once in their past three matches and that will be a concern ahead of their top-of-the-table Shield defence against Canterbury next weekend.
Taranaki had not beaten Southland since 2004 - and not in New Plymouth since 2001 - but they made the best possible start in their quest to break the drought, with second five-eighth Jayden Hayward crossing for a try inside five minutes.
Wing David Smith made the initial bust down the left flank and Hayward finished off several phases later, stepping off his right foot and cutting through Southland's usually-reliable defensive line to score.
Southland replied through a Robbie Robinson penalty but ill discipline in their own half cost the visitors, with Taranaki first five-eighth Willie Ripia converting two penalty attempts for a 13-3 halftime lead.
It could have been worse for Southland but for another try-saving tackle from their inspirational Jason Rutledge, who denied Taranaki hooker Mahonri Schwalger.
All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan was an early second half substitute as Southland searched for a spark, but they deviated from the gameplan with some frivolous football in their own half and paid the price.
Hayward towed a loose Southland pass toward the line and would have scored but for the fact he was tripped by his opposite, Matt Saunders, and referee Garratt Williamson correctly ruled a penalty try after consulting the nearest linesman.
It pushed the score out to 20-6 and despite plenty of huffing and puffing, Southland lacked the firepower to blow the house down against a determined and efficient Taranaki side.
Taranaki 23 (Jayden Hayward, penalty try, tries; Willie Ripia 3 pen, 2 con) Southland 6 (Robbie Robinson 2 pen). Halftime: 13-3.