The Ranfurly Shield is in good hands for the next 10 months after Taranaki produced a mature and composed performance to see off Hawke's Bay 29-11 yesterday.
It was always going to be a nerve racking occasion for both sides in front of a crowd of almost 18,000 at Yarrow Stadium and the early signs looked promising for the visitors as they created a couple of gilt-edged chances.
While they converted a penalty, they bombed a clear tryscoring chance that could have seen them race out to a 10-point lead.
They didn't, and it was Taranaki who took control of the game, operated calmly, accumulated points and took their chances.
There was never any panic, just trust in their systems, their team- mates and their ability to see off an inferior side.
There was also plenty of reward, with Taranaki now able to lock away the Shield for nine or 10 months and enjoy a summer where they can share the spoils of their success with a province that really appreciates it.
The Fabulous Fortnight can now turn into a Shield Summer.
Tenderlink Taranaki's forwards were a cut above their opponents yesterday as their set piece proved effective and accurate.
In contrast, Hawke's Bay's lineout was under pressure for important parts of the match, while they made too many errors in vital field positions.
Rising star first five-eighth Beauden Barrett had another day to remember with the boot, knocking over seven from seven to end the match with 19 points.
The 20-year-old also showed the maturity that was needed from his position as he kept his side in the right part of the field.
Making this performance, and the one against Southland, even more special was the fact he did it while still nursing a fractured wrist, something the Taranaki camp kept under wraps for three weeks.
Taranaki's best performers were the men who have helped the side equal the most wins (seven) of any side in the ITM Cup premiership in 2011 - outstanding flanker Scott Waldrom, captain Craig Clarke, locking partner Jason Eaton and Barrett.
Every player contributed in some way yesterday, though, as Taranaki scored two tries to one.
The first, to wing Frazier Climo, came off the back of some patient work, while the second was a great individual effort from second five-eighth Jayden Hayward - his sixth of the season.
There was also another excellent performance from centre Willie Rickards, who belied his status as the third choice No 13 to put together a top 80 minutes.
All Blacks lock Jarrad Hoeata put in a tough 80 minutes, as well, while Andre Taylor was excellent again from fullback and wing.
"It's pretty satisfying," Taranaki Clarke said. "To win the way we did by building pressure and not letting them into the game, it was very good."
Clarke said his side learnt a lot from beating Southland to win the Shield and they always backed themselves to deliver a good performance in front of a fantastic crowd.
"We can really trust each other to do our jobs now and then we can just get on with it - head down and get on with it."
Clarke said it was a relief to lock the Shield away but there was also a bit of disappointment they could not qualify for the ITM Cup final, despite having had more wins than Canterbury. It's the second year in a row they have missed out on a playoffs spot to a team with an inferior win record to them.
Canterbury will play Waikato in the final in Hamilton on Saturday.
"I thought we would have gone good in a final under pressure. But I'm proud of the team and we can sit back and enjoy this."
Taranaki coach Colin Cooper felt defending the Shield was even better than winning it.
"To be at home, when you have a province like this and a crowd like that, it was just awesome."
"We ground it out and that is Shield rugby," he said.
Cooper admitted he was always confident in his side's ability to defend the Shield, given the strength of his bench and the experience his side has in key positions.
"They are a great bunch of men to coach," he said.
His Hawke's Bay counterpart, Peter Russell was disappointed his side could not take advantage of the opportunities they created.
"We lacked patience at times because everyone wanted to score," he said. "If we waited one of two more phases we could have stretched Taranaki but they are a good team and they took their opportunities."
TARANAKI 29 (Frazier Climo, Jayden Hayward tries; Beauden Barrett 5 pen, 2 con) HAWKE'S BAY 11 (Richard Buckman try; Andrew Horrell 2 pen). HT: 16-3.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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