Will Taranaki be able to defend the Shield against Canterbury next weekend?
What a contrast. A week ago points came easier than taking candy from a baby.
Last night, Taranaki had to fight for every one of their 22 points to see off a determined but ultimately error-ridden Hawke's Bay side.
Taranaki's 22-6 win on a soggy and breezy night at Yarrow Stadium stretched their Ranfurly Shield reign to five games, although Canterbury loom large on the horizon next Saturday.
Still, the Taranaki side was just happy to hold on to their most prized possession, at the same time bagging another four NPC points. Three games, three wins, 14 competition points.
In the end Taranaki put a disrupted build-up behind them - losing star playmaker Beauden Barrett to the All Blacks, his older brother Kane to illness and hooker Laurence Corlett to a leg infection, all within the space of 24 hours.
Unlike last week, when the players were somewhat dejected after beating Tasman 49-40, they enjoyed the moment.
The music was cranking in the dressing room, the beer flowed from the chilly bin and the smiles never left their faces.
There were plenty of heroes, too. Returning flanker Scott Waldrom had a blinder, captain Craig Clarke put in a solid 80 minutes after being out for more than a month, while Jack Cameron came on to kick a vital penalty and add two conversions.
Cameron's tally could have been even more had a try not been disallowed after replacement centre Seta Tamanivula was ruled offside by local linesman Neville Ritson.
It was the right call, not that the 8111 brave and loyal Taranaki fans would agree.
It was a contest Taranaki assistant coach Leo Crowley desperately wanted to win after hearing Hawke's Bay coach Craig Philpott talking about street parades in Napier.
'When their coach comes out and says it's great having 10 days off after the game so they can have a holiday and enjoy a parade and have plenty of celebrations, well,' he said. 'They can go sit on the street and watch cars go past, that's their parade.'
The first half was like a slow, studied game of chess.
While Hawke's Bay enjoyed the lion's share of ball in the first 20 minutes, they lacked penetration or imagination.
Time and again they were happy to work it in close, which proved relatively easy for the Taranaki defence to contain.
There was the odd break, most notably from lock Ross Kennedy, but it was all too slow.
The challengers did have two chances to put points on the board but Dan Waenga was astray with two penalty attempts, including one from in front.
Taranaki did finally get their hands on the ball midway through the half but lacked the finishing clout they showed last week.
Marshall did have a chance to land a penalty but his kick was also astray.
Replacement hooker Timo Tutavaha, another late change, this time for Corlett, struggled with his throws.
Two of them put his side under huge pressure, while Taranaki would be thankful Hawke's Bay were not as clinical at the lineout as other opposition will be because there were also several throws that could have been picked off.
Hawke's Bay were also lucky not to have a player yellow carded after they conceded six penalties in a relatively short space of time.
Still, Tutavaha epitomised the Taranaki attitude. With his lungs almost bursting, it was the hooker who was chasing desperately after kicks, putting in some vital tackles. The same could be said for most of the Taranaki forwards, and the subs, including lock James Broadhurst, who put in a massive final 20 minutes.
It was at that time Taranaki finished the challengers off. Tries to Waldrom and Jayden Hayward put paid to them.
Crowley was happy with the way Taranaki's superior defence and fitness pulled through.
'We were really pleased at halftime, even though it was nil-all we always thought we would finish over the top of them.'
TARANAKI 22 (Kurt Baker, Scott Waldrom, Jayden Hayward tries; Jack Cameron 1 pen, 2 cons) HAWKE'S BAY 6 (Dan Waenga 2 pens). HT: 0-0.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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