Manawatū's second half fightback provides positivity ahead of crucial Hawke's Bay encounter
OPINION: It would be easy to slam the Manawatū Turbos for coming up short in their Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki, but their second half fight back deserves some recognition.
Everything fell apart in the first half on the back of a yellow card to Michael Alaalatoa for a cynical penalty inside the 22 as they leaked 19 points to Taranaki's backline stars Waisake Naholo and Seta Tamanivalu.
Down 27-6 at the break, a massacre looked to be on the cards.
Taranaki were looking ready to cut loose and a comeback looked well beyond Manawatū.
But the Turbos dug deep and did not let that happen.
With six minutes to play and the gap down to nine points, the Turbos had the parochial Yarrow Stadium crowd squirming in their seats.
They had worked their way to 34-25 with patience, better work at the breakdown, a solid scrum and improved tactical play.
Replacement halfback Jamie Booth and first five-eighth Jade Te Rure added some spice to Manawatū's attack which had struggled to find holes in Taranaki's line all match.
The Turbos pack finally got some go-forward and they were playing free of the nerves that appeared to impact the opening stages of the match.
It was unfortunate that while chasing the match in the final six minutes, or the two losing bonus points that were on offer with one more try, they allowed Taranaki to score twice to blow out the score to 46-25.
Unlike the Counties Manukau match, this time the Turbos were beaten by a better side.
Taranaki's tries came from moments of their brilliance rather than Manawatū errors.
As the Turbos' players came off the field after the match, they were visibly hurting more than any other match this season.
There was real belief in the team that they could have pulled off a shield swindle. It wasn't to be.
And while there were plenty of the same mistakes that have plagued the team all season, a couple of players stood out.
Booth was outstanding when he was injected into the game, first at halfback and then on the wing.
It was a performance that proved Booth is deserving of a Super Rugby contract.
He may still have things to tidy up in his game, but when he starts testing the defensive line as he did in New Plymouth, there is few more dangerous.
How Fraser Armstrong is still sweating on a Super Rugby contract is baffling.
The loosehead prop could do little more to prove his worthiness and added to his credentials by being in a front row which held up a monster Taranaki pack when the Turbos were down a man.
The likes of Jackson Hemopo, Alaalatoa, aside from the yellow card, and Kayne Hammington were also strong.
Ngani Laumape tried hard but was well shut down. Despite attracting plenty of attention he managed to get across the advantage line with every touch.
With the distraction of the shield now gone, it is important that Wednesday night is quickly forgotten.
Hawke's Bay wait on Sunday and the Turbos need a win to get the semifinal spot that have chased all year.