Taranaki used 33 players in 10 national provincial rugby matches in 2011. Glenn McLean looks at how they measured up.
The former national sevens rep continued to struggle with the after effects of a serious back injury he picked up at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, meaning he had to be managed through the compacted competition. That injury, coupled with a shoulder problem he suffered in Taranaki's first match against Wellington, meant he lasted only 80 minutes once – against Bay Of Plenty. While he struggled to find the form that made him such a devastating attacker in 2010, Baker was still a valuable asset at the back. His tries against Auckland and Bay Of Plenty were memorable.
Taylor's versatility continues to be a huge asset to the side, especially when he was asked to cover fullback for Baker. His speed, vision and kicking ability were top-rate and Taranaki fans collectively held their breath when he was injured against Tasman, a match in which he played a starring role after scoring a try and kicking four penalties and a conversion. He also provided some valuable direction for Taranaki's young wingers at crucial times. The best fullback, other than Cory Jane, in the Hurricanes region.
His rookie season proved a mixed bag, with several strong performances intertwined with some costly defensive lapses. Still, the New Zealand under-20 rep continues to show plenty of promise and is definitely worth more investment. Made five appearances this season but was left out of Taranaki's Shield challenge and first defence after the coaches opted for Frazier Climo and Jackson Ormond.
Had the misfortune of making his starting debut in the costly 15-10 loss to Manawatu, although he helped set up Jayden Hayward's record-breaking try. Got better as the season progressed and played outstandingly well against Southland and Hawke's Bay. His try in that first Shield defence gave Taranaki the momentum to win comfortably.
His try-saving tackle on Southland halfback Scott Cowan will never be forgotten, nor will his performance that night in Invercargill. Started off scratchily in his early games, especially on defence, but came of age against Auckland when he outplayed former All Black Joe Rokocoko. Will always be a threat with his speed, providing the players inside him can create space.
Had to deputise for George Pisi in the early rounds and did more than an adequate job at centre. His form tailed off after Pisi's arrival when he was forced to come off the bench. His season ended when he suffered concussion against Canterbury in a performance he will not remember with much fondness. Arguably a more natural second five-eighth, Tuifua is still young enough to have a good future in the game at provincial level.
The Samoa international arrived in Taranaki in the form of his life. Having dropped 12kg from when he first arrived in the province in 2010, Pisi was on a high after helping Samoa beat Australia. Because of his international commitments he, along with Mahonri Schwalger, was available for only five games, and that became four when he had to sit out the Tasman match because of a knee injury. Nevertheless, he was excellent for most of those four games, especially against Auckland. Sadly, he won't be back – Northampton will enjoy his services for the next two years.
Blighted by injury in the past three years, Rickards stood up when he was most needed, putting in stellar defensive performances in the shield challenge and first defence. While he might struggle to set his outside backs away, his commitment can never be questioned.
Led the try-scoring for the second year running and was arguably the most consistent back, again, appearing in every match. Continued to provide plenty of line breaks and was strong on defence. Many Taranaki fans are rightly asking why he has not been snapped up by the Hurricanes. Continues to grow as a leader in a young backline. Set a first-class record for tries in consecutive matches.
The rising star of the squad showed a level of maturity beyond his 20 years at key moments. Put a horror early kicking display behind him to land a record nine penalties against Bay of Plenty. Was not afraid to attack the line, something that had been missing with Willie Ripia at the helm, while he showed his commitment to the cause by playing with a fractured wrist against Southland and Hawke's Bay. Has the rugby world at his feet if handled well.
Appeared in every match except the shield challenge, which can be forgotten after a bad day against Canterbury. Cameron provides experience and versatility. His best game was against Tasman in his 50th appearance for the union.
Arrived back in Taranaki after a horror season with the Hurricanes that saw him suspended for four weeks because of a spear tackle. Those problems combined to see him slightly off the pace at the start of the season, although it didn't take long for him to get back to some good form. Battled concussion and illness to play a leading role in lifting the shield. His competitive nature will be missed next year as he starts his three-year contract in Italy.
Mixed his form but still proved his value on several key occasions. Was excellent off the bench against Southland when cool heads were needed. Has now racked up 68 games for Taranaki, the most in the squad. Will be interesting to see where he sits next year with Keats' departure.
Started the season as the top ranked No8 after some impressive pre-season form but dropped back to an impact role after injury and a couple of quiet performances. Still needs to lift his work rate. Will continue to improve as he matures.
Undoubtedly the player of the year in a season when he managed to free himself of injury. Was superb in matches and, tellingly, was quiet in the games Taranaki lost. His work rate, support play, breakdown accuracy and ability to read the game were first rate. Must go close to being the best forward in the ITM Cup.
Not quite the impact of the previous year but comes up with some quality plays around the field. Often does not get the credit he deserves, with his good work usually only spotted on reviewing the game.
Admired by coach Colin Cooper for his "trench warfare", Walker was another key component to Taranaki's shield win. Has adapted his game to become more of a blindside flanker after being regarded more as a No7. Always gives his all but could improve his skill base.
All Blacks commitments saw him limited to just two games. Was injured early in the match against Bay of Plenty and had limited impact but made his presence felt against Hawke's Bay. Sadly, Taranaki might see less and less of him.
An inspirational leader when it came to showing the way in recovery in such a compacted competition. Did everything a top class lock should do and more. Is universally respected and would be in demand overseas. Thankfully the lure of the shield will keep him in Taranaki.
Had his best season for Taranaki since bursting on to the national scene. Snubbed by Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, Eaton played like a man wanting to prove a point. Brought a tougher approach to the breakdown while still being excellent at lineout time and around the field. Has matured greatly and did a good job when asked to captain the side.
Missed the first two games because of shoulder problems that continued to cause him angst after a hectic Super Rugby season. He provided real impact off the bench and was the third member of the best locking combination in the competition. Broadhurst has signed on with Taranaki for another two years.
Was used more as a loosehead than in the previous year when he owned the No3 jersey. Bent does not get the recognition he deserves from observers outside Taranaki. He has improved his ball-carrying skills but still lost the pill at a couple of crucial times in matches. He should go further if afforded more of a chance at the Hurricanes.
Another who continues to get better under Colin Cooper's tutelage. Had a horror moment against Tasman but that was one of the few blights on his best campaign. A vital cog in several telling scrums, including the last glorious effort against Southland.
His best season in Taranaki by some distance. The problems that plagued his game a couple of years ago have gone, while his scrummaging has improved markedly. Lifted his work rate to a new level and has a good understanding of defensive systems. Feeling in the Taranaki camp is that he deserves a Super Rugby call-up.
Spent the build-up to the Shield challenge locked away with a bad stomach virus and somehow managed to play 50 minutes. Saved his best for the shield defence but still managed a number of good performances. His experience continues to be invaluable.
What more can you say apart from totally professional?
Made seven appearances off the bench, including some decent spells, which is an indication of the growing trust he has earned. Still has the odd throw-in wobble to the lineout but is getting better. His tight work has also improved.
Not rated through a lack of game time: Kylem O'Donnell, Andrew Hore, Sione Lea, Blade Thomson, Kevin Curtis and Willie Ioane.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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