In many respects Taranaki's final round victory over North Harbour summed up the ITM Cup season overall: some spectacular moments, some poor performances, but overall, a success.
Finishing fifth is more than satisfactory for Taranaki. Of course it would be nice to be in the semifinals, contesting for the title. But a lack of consistency and depth ultimately proved the downfall, if it can be called that.
A team like Hawke's Bay still could not get across the line to breach the top seven, despite a strong run home. And Southland for all their endeavour and commitment just ran out of puff on the home straight. In the final wash-up, Taranaki was comfortably ahead of both, and that too does deserve praise.
Nine wins from 13 games is a record for Taranaki teams. The 1998 semifinalists won six from nine to do so, while the 2000 version scrapped in with only five wins from the nine games.
While not playing quite the same open running rugby as the 2004 side - which also won six from nine - it was a comparable performance, and certainly superior to the five years in between. Taranaki garnished 29 points in 2004. It did not play Tasman, Manawatu, Counties or Hawke's Bay. The 2010 side gained 15 championship points from those teams, meaning, as a comparison, the 2004 side ranks marginally ahead - 29 against an adjusted 27 for 2010.
If you had not followed Taranaki's 2010 ITM Cup campaign you could very easily understand the size and nature of the loss to Wellington on Saturday.
Taranaki, we were told and hoped, was a much better lineup. With eight wins from 11 games, even if there was some scratchiness in some of those victories, did suggest that Taranaki should be a challenge for Wellington. Some know-alls even suggested that the pressure was on Wellington.
But in the end, after a solid first 35 minutes, Taranaki fell like a pack of cards, just as they have in their previous encounters at the Cake Tin. The statistics now read six appearances, six hidings.
Just as Hawke's Bay did in the first half, Wellington cut Taranaki apart and cruelly exposed the tackling of Taranaki under pressure. Tackling one-off runners is one thing, tackling players who are doing more than crashing and bashing is completely different.
The biggest sin came just short of half-time, with the score only 10-8 to Wellington.
One of the scores of Manawatu Turbo supporters who turned up in spectacular numbers, despite the form of their side, at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday carried a Tui sign which branded: "Taranaki Rugby, 125 years of home grown players."
The traditional Tui response summed up the feelings of the Manawatu.
Memories are short.
It was not that many years ago when Manawatu were in a combined outfit - or misfit, please your self - with Hawke's Bay called the Vikings. It included the likes of Dion Waller, Bull Allen, Christian Cullen, Stephen Bachop, Chresten Davis - all All Blacks, and not one of them was from Manawatu.
Imported players have long been a part of the game. And while it can be understood some frustrations from down the line with Taranaki poaching a couple of players at the end of last year, Taranaki would still be well on the negative side when it comes to movements between the two provinces.
How can a team play so well one week and so ordinary the next is the question on most Taranakian's lips at the moment.
It is rather simple: attitude. Most observers making the comment are in all likelihood no different in their own vocations. Occasionally, once or twice a year perhaps, the acid comes on and we all have to lift our standards both in terms of quality and quantity.
Once the challenge is overcome, it is only natural to ease back. In short, it is impossible to perform at the peak of your powers week after and week. And so it has been with Taranaki in this year's ITM Cup.
The first 20 minutes on Saturday was top-notch stuff, and oh for the forwards taking one too many hit-ups or Tyson Keats being too slow at clearing the ball, a couple of further tries would have come in that opening stanza.
The significance of the result could be easily lost by the congested nature of the ladder, especially since Counties Manukau prevailed yesterday. But Taranaki can only control what they do.
The yo-yo continues for Taranaki - as it does for most of the teams in the competition. But the implication still remains - this province needs to win two more games if it is to make the top seven.
Counties upsetting Northland yesterday did provide some positive news in the top seven hopes. The potato growers have a tougher road home, with games against Harbour, Auckland, Canterbury and Hawke's Bay.
One further win will take Taranaki to 32, but with Counties already on 25, it is likely that Counties will secure a further eight points.
Likewise, Northland, who faces a massive game against Waikato this week, are still very much alive on 21. They could quite likely win three more games - they also have Hawke's Bay, Tasman and Bay of Plenty to come.
To win only one game is likely to mean Taranaki needs to crib out with a host of bonus points.
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