Beauden Barrett is likely to return to Taranaki's ranks for their NPC match in Auckland on Wednesday after they defended the Ranfurly Shield without him on Saturday.
Taranaki beat Canterbury 18-9 in a tense clash in New Plymouth to remain unbeaten, one point behind premiership leaders Wellington.
Barrett was not used by the All Blacks in their 21-11 win over South Africa in Dunedin and the first five-eighth is expected to join the Taranaki camp today as they eye the outright NPC lead with victory at Eden Park.
Taranaki management had not heard yesterday what All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's plans for Barrett were, although it is looking increasingly likely the 21-year-old will be on a plane to Argentina on Saturday as Dan Carter's troubled calf injury remains a concern.
Taranaki were also waiting to hear if lock James Broadhurst has to front a judicial hearing after he was cited by Canterbury for allegedly using a knee against an opponent in the first half.
Favoured by most pundits to beat Taranaki, the four-times defending NPC champions were outplayed and forced into countless errors by more determined opponents.
“Clearly we didn't play to the conditions as well as the home team,” Canterbury coach Tabai Matson said. "On the back of a lot of errors, which is uncharacteristic, we were just poor.”
A proud Taranaki coach, Colin Cooper, was delighted with the way his side stuck to their work in difficult conditions. "It is very satisfying, to play in front of your home crowd and to beat a major [title] contender like that, it's very, very pleasing," he said.
With their respective defeats, Canterbury and Auckland remained equal third, four points behind Taranaki. Auckland have a big week ahead, hosting Taranaki then Wellington on Saturday.
Bay of Plenty provided the result of the round, grabbing their first win over Auckland in eight years with a 37-16 victory in Rotorua.
In the second-tier championship it remains all Counties-Manukau after their five-try romp against Otago. Coach Tana Umaga's side are six points clear of Tasman in the race for promotion, after the Makos were pipped by Northland.
- © Fairfax NZ News