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.
James Broadhurst has emerged as the signing of the season. He was again in the thick of things again on Saturday and must be pushing for a starting Super 15 berth. The signing of him for two years was an astute investment.
His partner, Craig Clarke, has also grown exceptionally this year, even if he became a wee bit too predictable in challenging referee's calls. At the start of the year, the squad did lack leadership. That can't be said now, even if there were some weeks when the team were off the pace.
Mo Schwalger was also a grand aquisition, while Keats, Smith, Taylor and Baker all had their moments.
The outstanding goal kicking display of Beauden Barrett on Saturday was perhaps his biggest pass mark to date. But Taranaki still needs to have a backline with greater depth past first five. A lack of depth in the midfield and outside back and shoring up the propping department appear the areas where development and recruitment is needed most.
But in the meantime, with the shine shinning, summer is looking like a satisfying and comforting experience with that vital top seven position secured.
Roll on 2011, God and NZRU willing.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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