The ice baths have never felt so good for an exhausted Taranaki side that went to the top of the national championship table last night after a combative 26-23 win over Tasman.
With a ridiculous schedule of three games in six days, Taranaki were always going to take a win of substance over style and that's exactly how it panned out at Yarrow Stadium.
While their lead at the top of the ITM Cup might last only a day, Taranaki somehow found the energy to overcome a Tasman side that belied their position on the championship table.
Taranaki also found a new hero in the form of Andre Taylor.
Three days after young first five-eighth Beauden Barrett kicked a record nine penalties to overcome Bay of Plenty, Taylor stepped up to land four long-range penalties and a conversion and score a 65m try.
His efforts might have come at a cost, however, with the Hurricanes wing taken to hospital with a suspected ruptured kidney, although Taranaki coach Colin Cooper was hopeful it was only badly bruised.
"The worst-case scenario is what he had against Manawatu [ruptured bowel last year] when he was gone for the season," he said.
"We'll just have to wait and see because he has just been playing so well.
"His goal kicking is extra but he just provides a lot of talk for us and organisation and he brings a lot of experience."
Cooper said the win was satisfying, despite its nature. "It was a very, very difficult week, losing to Manawatu and then having to play the Bay of Plenty, and I think we really gutsed that out and had to back it up. It tested our depth."
Cooper praised the impact Craig Clarke and Scott Waldrom made off the bench because he thought his side was "very fragile" on defence in the first half.
"Our line speed was poor, we lost the ball, that was poor, and they certainly got a rev up at halftime."
The win, Taranaki's fifth of the season, came on the back of limited ball and against a Tasman side that looked more energetic, except when it mattered most – in the middle 20 minutes of the second half.
Despite dominating possession for long periods, Tasman failed to take advantage of plenty of chances, especially close to the line.
While they got a consolation try right on fulltime, it will be Taranaki enjoying a much needed rest and Tasman looking back on another three-point loss.
In the end it was a dominant Taranaki scrum and sheer desire that got them home, although they had another start to forget.
Their tactic of playing field position never paid off as the chase was not urgent enough and Tasman found it too easy to return.
An early penalty to Tasman's Andrew Goodman was followed up with a try five minutes later.
Jayden Hayward spilt an attacking ball near the Tasman 22 before it was recovered by the Taranaki defence.
Big prop Carl Carmichael will not be happy to see the review of what happened next as he had the ball ripped out of his grasp by Tasman hooker Quentin MacDonald before it was given to Goodman to go over in the corner.
At 10-0 down the crowd began to sit uneasy in their seats as Taranaki looked off the pace and short of the workrate needed up front.
Penalties were then traded, before Taranaki wing Jackson Ormond showed some of the first signs of urgency from the home side, first running in with purpose to grab a high kick then retreating to his wing and getting on the end of a good bust by lock James Broadhurst to score. Despite the easy nature of the points, it was Tasman who dominated the rest of the half, feeding off Taranaki's mistakes in the process.
To their credit they conceded only another penalty kick and managed one of their own before going into the break down 16-13.
The halftime score flattered the hosts and illustrated several points, including the need for Waldrom to be on the park, that centre George Pisi will be desperately missed now that he's off on World Cup duty, and it's bloody hard to play three games in six days.
TARANAKI 26 (Jackson Ormond, Andre Taylor tries; Taylor 4 pens, con, Jack Cameron con) TASMAN 23 (Andrew Goodman, Hamish Cochrane tries; Goodman 3 pens, 2 cons). HT: 13-16.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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