The high fives, back slapping and general excitement around the Taranaki squad spoke volumes about today's final preseason hit-out.
Taranaki tuned up for next week's national provincial championship opener against Counties Manukau with a convincing 24-5 win over Auckland in testing conditions at Tikorangi.
Four tries to nil and a 24-0 lead at the break was the perfect tonic for a young Taranaki squad who were far the better team in the opening half.
Unlike last week's match against Waikato, Taranaki took their chances with a ruthless streak as they outplayed their more fancied opposition with a mix of strong forward play and efficient work from their backs.
Most notably, Taranaki's new recruits showed the sort of leadership coach Colin Cooper would have wanted.
Playing against his former team-mates, prop Angus Ta'avao stood up at set piece, while he was strong in the defensive line and in the tight stuff, while fellow front rowers Rhys Marshall and Mitchell Graham also put in some eye-catching work across the paddock.
Add in some dominant scrummaging from replacement prop Sione Lea in the second half and Cooper will be happy with the depth he has mustered.
The second row is also an area where competition is growing as Riki Hoeata and Leighton Price battle hard to partner James Broadhurst, who was keen to get the ball in hand.
Experienced openside Doug Tietjens's game is progressing after a sustained period on the sidelines, while Blade Thomson and Mitchell Crosswell look settled in their roles.
Yesterday's starting backline also showed promise, with Jamison Gibson-Park, Marty McKenzie, James Marshall and Charlie Ngatai forming a good combination.
Wing Waisake Naholo took his chances, crossing for a double off some good set piece and blindside play, while Seta Tamanivalu and Jackson Ormond were not burdened with too much action.
If there was some areas of improvement to be found it would centre on adding some depth to their forward runners who got caught static behind the advantage line and struggled to get past a quick Auckland defensive line.
Discipline, especially in the second half, was also an issue as Taranaki went without possession for long periods. They were lucky not to be yellow carded, too, as referee Paul Williams took a sensible approach to matters.
While Auckland defended generally well around the fringes, some of their youngsters struggled out wide, while their attack was nowhere near where it should be on the back of a four-day camp at yesterday's match venue.
''We showed some good physicality in defence, it was a big step up,'' Cooper said. ''The Super [Rugby] guys have come in and given us some real energy. I think we've really buttoned down on areas we have had to work on.''
Although concerned with the second half discipline, he saw his attack progress when their set piece went well.
Cooper thought the win and the performance would really lift his side as they go into camp for a couple of days.
''It will be great because it's all about confidence. We are where we want to be and there will be no excuses next week.''
Taranaki 24 (Waisake Naholo 2, Jamison Gibson-Park, Marty McKenzie tries; McKenzie 2 cons) Auckland 5 (George Moala try). HT: 24-0.
- Taranaki Daily News
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