Hat-trick hero Kurt Baker has a message for prospective Super Rugby coaches: “I don't mind where I go.”
Baker has surprisingly been cut by Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph for next season, with the former national sevens star told he was too much of a risk because of an old back injury.
The 23-year-old has a different view, saying his back has never felt better.
On the evidence from yesterday's 59-18 Ranfurly Shield win over Manawatu, who would argue with him? As well as scoring three tries, Baker was at the heart of Taranaki's attacks as Manawatu decided to regularly kick the ball to him.
He and his former Manawatu sidekick, Andre Taylor, helped Taranaki score eight tries as the shield holders finished right over the top of the challengers.
His efforts infuriated hundreds of Manawatu supporters who gave him a chant previously reserved for cricket great Sir Richard Hadlee across the Tasman.
“We wanted to show we could play a wide game as well, so it was pretty pleasing,” Baker said.
Baker agreed that he had put himself in the shop window for Super Rugby coaches and Hurricanes boss Mark Hammett should have been pleased with what he saw from the stand. “Hopefully something pops up otherwise I might have to take over Kane Barrett's wood chopping business.” Barrett was snapped up by the Blues last week and Sir John Kirwan might also welcome someone of Baker's class.
“I don't mind where I go, as long as I'm playing some rugby,” he said.
He laughed off the abuse he copped from the Bucket Heads.
“I gave a fair bit back to them when we kept dotting down in the second half.” Dot down Taranaki did, eight times in all as Manawatu simply ran out of legs in the hot conditions.
Taranaki dominated the first half and got their first points after six minutes when Frazier Climo slotted the first of his three penalties before the break.
While Manawatu drew even four minutes later, Taylor took advantage of a good run by halfback Jamison Gibson-Park to score against his former team.
An excellent turnover by lock Jason Eaton then sent fullback Baker under the crossbar to make it 17-3.
To their credit, Manawatu struck back following some good lead-up work which ended with wing Craig Clare scoring out wide.
His conversion dragged the score back to 17-10 before Climo landed another two three-pointers.
It could have been more had his last attempt not hit the upright.
Both sides committed plenty of mistakes in the second quarter when they were guilty of failing to turn half breaks into points.
Manawatu coach Jason O'Halloran was disappointed at just how many tackles his players fell off and the overall performance of the challengers.
“We had some opportunities in the first half if we looked after our ball a bit better,” he said. “If you are going to turn over ball and miss tackles against a team like that, it's going to hurt you every time.”
Taranaki 59 (Kurt Baker 3, Frazier Climo 2, Andre Taylor, Jackson Ormond, Willie Rickards tries; Climo 4 con, 3 pen, Taylor con) Manawatu 18 (Craig Clare, Reece Robinson tries; Clare 2 pen, con). Ht: 23-10.
- © Fairfax NZ News