Mooloos hold off spirited Taniwha to keep Shield
But Northland gave us a frightEVAN PEGDEN
The Ranfurly Shield is safe in Hamilton for another week but Northland gave Waikato a huge fright at Waikato Stadium last night.
In the end Waikato emerged victorious 31-22 - three tries to one - but the deadly boot of Australian first-five Ben Seymour kept the challengers within range throughout.
Over 1000 Northland supporters are estimated to have made the journey down to Hamilton to support their team and it certainly lifted the Taniwha.
Waikato made a powerful opening to the match and scored the only two tries of the first half for an 18-9 halftime lead, but it took the home side until the 16th minute for the first of those tries to flanker Rory Grice and Northland were right in the game despite the scoreline.
The shield holders had a solid set-piece platform to work off at both scrum and lineout time early on, although Northland came back into the game after conceding a 10-0 deficit in the first quarter.
Former Western Force five-eighth Seymour got them on the scoreboard with a penalty goal and only a huge spot tackle on dangerman Rene Ranger by his Waikato opposite Save Tokula prevented a Northland try in the 24th minute.
When Northland then made a mistake at the defensive end of the field with a mis-kick straight to Waikato halfback Kylem O'Donnell, enabling the home side to move the ball wide for Tokula to make a break and offload in the tackle to flying 19-year-old winger Joe Webber for the second try.
The rest of the scoring was limited to penalty goals in the half, but it took Northland just the opening minute of the second spell to score their first try when burly halfback Sonatane Takalua raced through a yawning gap off a solid attacking scrum, Seymour's conversion closing the gap to 18-16.
An exchange of penalties had the scoreline at 21-19 but mistakes were creeping into the Waikato game and they could not maintain possession long enough to build pressure.
The holders established field position but overdid the kick and found their earlier set-piece edge seriously eroded, but after a Sam Christie/Tokula break to the Northland line brought another penalty Renata matched Seymour with his fourth penalty goal to make it 24-19.
But Seymour's reply with his fifth penalty was immediate to keep the pressure on with 10 minutes left to play.
It was a matter of who finished the strongest and Waikato finally got their hands on the ball and hung onto it on attack, launching a series of attacks and then resorting to pick and go assaults on the line before hard-working prop Toby Smith finally got over in the left corner and got the nod from the TMO, Renata's conversion making it 31-22 to keep the shield safe.
Northland were given a chance to snatch a bonus point when Waikato opted not to kick the ball out after the final siren and the challengers launched an exciting counter-attack only for a blatant forward pass by replacement Warren Dunn to be picked up by the TMO to rule out the try.
Scorers: Waikato 31 (Rory Grice, Joe Webber, Toby Smith tries; Trent Renata 2 conversions, 4 penalty goals) Northland (Sonatane Takalua try; Ben Seymour conversion, 5 penalty goals). Halftime 9-0.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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