Two Shield challenges in four days - did that play a role in Taranaki's capitulation?
Waikato pulled off a spectacular smash and grab raid to end Taranaki's 13-month Ranfurly Shield tenure last night.
A snarling, hungry forward pack repeatedly hammered Taranaki and set the scene for Waikato to score a 46-10 victory at Yarrow Stadium.
Taranaki had no answer to the power of Waikato, a team that most pundits had written off as having little chance.
Taranaki skipper Craig Clarke looked on glumly as his Waikato counterpart Alex Bradley snatched the Shield from the presentation table after the game.
“We were just blown away and it was just too tough to get back into it,” Clarke said. “They just had too much intensity in the first half and they brought it again at the start of the second spell.”
An equally dejected coach, Colin Cooper, said nothing went Taranaki's way in the first 20 minutes.
“We ended up chasing the game and when you do that mistakes come in,” he said.
“We tried, they really tried, but we were not good enough. We were always worried they had good players and they just had to gel. They did.”
Last night's defeat ended a golden season for Taranaki after they won the Shield from Southland on August 24 last year.
Seven successful defences thrilled the province and lured thousands of faithful amber and black fans back to Yarrow Stadium, in contrast to scenes at other provincial games around the country.
But that sweet season became a memory last night as the Shield headed back to Waikato for the first time in five years.
A crowd of 10,500 came out to support the amber and blacks in their bid to keep the Shield for another summer.
There aren't many schools, businesses, or events the Shield hasn't visited in the last year and the excitement of its return even sparked a Shield parade revival.
But it didn't start well for the home crowd in last night's clear but chilly conditions with the first try going to Waikato.
Not that this dampened fans' spirits as the cheers and chants flowed from one end of the stadium to the other.
The optimism began to fade though as halftime drew near and nervous faces started to spread like wild fire.
Former Taranaki man Ross McCracken, who now lives in Wellington, came up for the game and was still hopeful at halftime that things would turn around.
"It's a game of two halves and I'm sure things will come right," he said.
A regular at Taranaki games, Inglewood's Darrin West wasn't so sure and threatened to burn his scarf if things didn't pick up.
"I would have been comfortable if it was a 12-point margin at halftime but not this," he said.
As for three Inglewood schoolkids, they had already formed a pact and thought long and hard about what they would do if Taranaki lost.
Nine-year-old Lachlan Smith would cry, his 10-year-old mate Beren Bessant would faint and 9-year-old Aidan Goble would run on to the field and score a try.
Shortly into the second half there were shouts of desperation from the northern hill and many could be seen with heads and hands shaking in disbelief.
Even before the final whistle blew supporters had lost the will to stay on and fight and the stands began to empty.
The Amber Army stayed strong but Colonel Rio Quilter, standing in for General Jackson, couldn't hide his disappointment as the clock struck fulltime.
"It's a pretty sombre mood right now but I just want the team to know we still support them and always will," the Colonel said.
"We're going to make the final and win and the Amber Army will be right there beside them."
Those sentiments were shared by New Plymouth's Jason Anderton who despite being "gutted" said he remains an avid supporter.
"If we had won I would probably have gone out and celebrated hard and had to call in sick to work tomorrow but the boys have done well all season and we'll go all the way," he said.
The original Log o' Wood isn't the only one Waikato-bound.
New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young has proudly pinned the Parliament Ranfurly Shield badge to his suit each day but will now have to pass it on to a Waikato MP.
"I've texted them all and said whichever one promises to fix up their end of State Highway 3 gets the badge," he said.
SHOW'S OVER BUT THANKS TEAM - ROY PILOTT, EDITOR
There are three certainties in life in New Zealand - death, taxes and that if you win the Ranfurly Shield, a time will come when you lose it.
The dreaded moment arrived last night at Yarrow Stadium more than 13 months after the Shield was lifted in dramatic fashion from Southland.
Immediate memories will tell us Taranaki turned in an awful shift and were mugged by a rampant Waikato. But history will recall this tenure as one which evoked enormous pride and satisfaction, and it will recall the Shield holders as a team which dared to live the dream and involve the public.
Thousands were given the chance to pose with and touch the Shield, thousands more watched as it was taken around the mountain - and it was an inspired move to play for it in Inglewood. It was taken to rural schools, businesses and clubs and awoke the spirit of the float parade. The players even went back to school to help paint the floats.
The Taranaki Rugby Union and Colin Cooper showed commendable vision by adopting an open door policy on publicity from the moment the Shield arrived. They were rewarded with bumper crowds, which will be good for the health of the game in Taranaki.
Our fifth term as holders of the Shield is over - but there is still the NPC to play for. And if there is comfort to take from last night, it might be in the knowledge that I can testify from personal experience and a large number of text messages that it will be as cherished in its new home as it was here.
It has been a wonderful ride and a marvellous chapter in the province's history.
Congratulations Waikato, and to our boys, thanks team.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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