Can Taranaki beat Canterbury and make the NPC final?
A daunting semifinal away to four-time defending NPC champions Canterbury awaits Taranaki after they limped away from the Capital yesterday totally outplayed by Wellington.
Faced with the prospect of having to beat Wellington with a bonus point to host a semifinal in New Plymouth, Taranaki never looked a chance as they made too many mistakes and were punished by a far better side.
The 33-17 scoreline flattered Taranaki, who will start as clear outsiders to beat Canterbury in Christchurch on Saturday, especially given the form they are in at the moment.
Canterbury will be odds-on to reach the final and chase five titles in a row, especially after the way they took apart Bay of Plenty yesterday.
They will hardly be filled with fear when they get a chance to review Taranaki's performance in the Capital.
Taranaki coach Colin Cooper stressed to his players the importance of starting well in Wellington. The players obviously did not listen or were simply not in the mood to go toe-to-toe with Wellington.
The mistakes made were in keeping with the way they have lost three of their games so far this season as they were outclassed up front.
Despite boasting some of the most experienced men in their positions in the competition, Taranaki struggled to get the basics right yesterday.
Misfires at the lineout really hurt them because they were unable to take advantage of some good field positions. That flowed through the rest of their game as they lost possession too easily, took wrong options and simply failed to turn half chances into ones that counted.
Their defence was also poor. To stop Wellington, sides really need to show good line speed and tackle aggressively.
Taranaki could do neither and were not helped by some senior players missing basic tackles. Wellington need no second invitation and were happy to attack from anywhere, knowing they were likely to get over the advantage line and find plenty of support.
Down 17-0 at the break, Taranaki needed to start the second half well.
They couldn't - captain Jason Eaton dropping the kick-off from which Wellington, inevitably, added more points.
First five-eighth Beauden Barrett struggled in his first start since September 1, a couple of his mistakes leading to Wellington tries.
Throw in a yellow card to flanker Jarrad Hoeata for a high tackle and Taranaki's inability to adjust to referee Bryce Lawrence, again, and things were bleak for the travelling fans who must wonder why they continue to head to Wellington in the hope that an away win will come. The lineout is an area they must address because everything they do against Canterbury will need to be much more improved from what they put out against Wellington.
Cooper could find no positives from his side's performance, although he should have been happy with the form of his two props - Chris King and Michael Bent - because they were excellent in everything they did.
Throwing aside, hooker Timo Tutavaha was good around the track but the forwards in general failed to deliver enough quality possession to allow Taranaki to bring the likes of Andre Taylor into the game.
They also need to stop giving their opposition so much space because Canterbury will exploit it with aplomb.
Eaton was at a loss as to why his side were so off their game, given he rated their lead-up work as top notch.
'It felt a lot like the Waikato game. I thought we would be up but as soon as we crossed the playing line we let them get a roll on and we couldn't do much to stop it,' he said.
'It's an area we are going to have to address or we are going to get pumped and our season will be over. The only positive we can take out of this game is that we have another one next week.'
Eaton said it was tough for his team to get good line speed in their defence when they were allowing the opposition to get over the gain line so easily.
'Their tactics were good, they switched play on us really well and they got a roll on.'
The former All Black said their performance was 'one of our worst' and not what was needed a week out from the playoffs.
'When we're on song and are up and excited, we can play some good football, but it's not happening in the first 30 minutes, so we have to address that.'
WELLINGTON 33 (Jason Woodward 2, Scott Fuglistaller, Tim Bateman tries; Woodward 3 pens, 2 cons) TARANAKI 17 (Jason Eaton, James Broadhurst, James Marshall tries; Beauden Barrett con). HT: 17-0.
NPC results, standings: Page 14
- © Fairfax NZ News
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