The full Taranaki rugby squad begins work this morning and on the evidence of Saturday's successful 51-7 Ranfurly Shield defence against Wanganui, there might be a bit of overtime put in.
Tenderlink Taranaki coach Colin Cooper will welcome back Jason Eaton, James Broadhurst, Andre Taylor, Beauden Barrett and Scott Waldrom after their Super Rugby campaigns, while new recruit Chris Smylie will continue his comeback from injury as the squad prepares for the ITM Cup, which kicks off against Bay Of Plenty in less than three weeks.
Last year's skipper, Craig Clarke, will have time to recover from his knee injury before he returns, while prop Shane Cleaver is an uncertain starter until he is cleared from concussion issues.
The rest of the squad were involved in Taranaki's first Shield defences of the season.
While the first, against King Country, proved easy enough, the second, against Meads Cup champions Wanganui, proved a bit tougher at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday.
Taranaki were guilty of coughing up too much possession in the first half. Despite having close to 85 per cent territory and possession, the Shield holders failed to convert a host of chances, largely through their sloppy work.
"The first 40 minutes, they were into us," Taranaki captain Willie Rickards said. "We didn't play with the intensity we needed and we got a real bollocking at halftime."
Surprisingly, that "bollocking" did not come from Cooper but former All Blacks lock Jarrad Hoeata, who felt so angry he raised himself off his seat to demand more effort.
"He just told us that it was not acceptable and it worked because we came out in the second half and were a lot sharper," Rickards said.
New Zealand sevens rep Waisake Naholo was at the heart of most Taranaki attacks as the Wanganui defence found his pace too hot to handle.
Naholo played a big hand in most of Taranaki's six second-half tries, which included a brace to halfback Jamison Gibson-Park.
Cooper acknowledged Wanganui had put his side under pressure in the first half.
"Again, we turned the ball over too often, missed shots at goals, which would have given us a buffer, but we wondered [at halftime] if Wanganui could stay with us so it was all about keeping the ball in the second half and being a bit more ruthless," he said.
The veteran coach felt Wanganui had played pretty well but urged his team to be a bit "smarter" in the second half.
"We were attacking channels where they were sitting there waiting and once we started moving it a bit wider we would make mistakes, which was frustrating," he said.
Wanganui coach Jason Caskey was disappointed the score blew out after his side had put up a brave and spirited effort.
"I would have been happy if it was 30-odd to 7 but we let in a couple of soft long range tries," he said. "I thought we fronted and we had to because if you want to be in a game like this you have to be ready for a battle. We did give ourselves a chance and we defended pretty well but in the end we were just a bit short of firepower."
Taranaki's next challenge will come from Tasman in the second week of the ITM Cup.
TARANAKI 51 (Frazier Climo 2, Jamison Gibson-Park 2, Waisake Naholo, Jarred Hoeata, Kane Barrett tries; Climo 4 cons, 2 pens, Jack Cameron con)
WANGANUI 7 (Cole Baldwin try; Mark Davis con). Halftime: 11-0.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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