Waikato have turned a poor season into a brilliant one by winning the Ranfurly Shield with a 46-10 upset victory over Taranaki in New Plymouth last night.
In front of a crowd of 10,516 at Yarrow Stadium, the Waikato team lifted several notches above anything they have managed previously this season to take the coveted log o' wood for the ninth tine in their history.
Waikato's first shield challenge in five years came up trumps to not only add to their rich history of challenging for the log but the five competition points will prove a saviour for their ITM Cup premiership campaign, being just their fourth win of the season.
Waikato hit the shield holders hard right from the kickoff and got their first try through hooker Marcel Cummings-Toone from a soft pick-and-go breach of the defence near the line after two minutes. The home crowd expected their boys in amber and black to strike back quickly and they did, but only through a Frazier Climo penalty goal in the eighth minute and that was it from the home side for the first 40 minutes.
In contrast, Waikato ran in three more tries to have a bonus point four minutes from halftime to take a commanding 27-3 lead at the break.
There was much more urgency on attack and at the breakdowns than Waikato had shown all season and the tackling was ferocious and accurate.
First five-eighth Sam Christie, starting this game because of an ankle injury that prevented recent starter Piers Francis from training early in the week, was in his element as Waikato stretched Taranaki from side to side and put runners into holes on frequent occasions.
Fullback Trent Renata grabbed a second try after strong fine runs into space from returning forwards Matt Vant Leven and Romana Graham and then a little dab from dangerous halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Christie was next, scoring by the posts after some powerful pick-and-go work led by storming prop Toby Smith and again the creative connection of Kerr-Barlow. With Renata converting both those tries and adding a massive 55-metre penalty goal with the aid of a westerly tail wind, the challengers shot out to 22-3 and in the 36th minute standout skipper and No 8 Alex Bradley powered over from a stunning 25m maul to make it 27-3.
Two tries to wing Tim Mikkelson in the first nine minutes of the second half meant at 39-3 the game was all over.
But try telling Taranaki that. They weren't giving up and stormed back on attack and when Kerr-Barlow was yellow-carded, his opposite, Jamison Gibson-Park, darted through soon after for clever individual try. But after that the heroic Waikato defence hung tough and with time virtually up, Mikkelson intercepted a desperate Taranaki attempt to counter-attack near their own line to get his hat-trick try.
Waikato 46 (Tim Mikkelson 3, Marcel Cummings-Toone, Trent Renata, Sam Christie, Alex Bradley tries; Renata pen, 4 con) Taranaki 10 (Jamison Gibson-Park try; Frazier Climo pen, con). Halftime: 27-3.
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