Taranaki survive late scare to beat Waikato
The potency of Taranaki's backline was on display in the opening round of the national provincial rugby championship as they ran in five of the side's six tries in a narrow 34-29 win over Waikato at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday.
While Taranaki's forwards have a bit to do to come up to scratch, especially at lineout time, their backs showed they can score tries from anywhere on the field as they demonstrated.
Taranaki co-captain Charlie Ngatai said pre-match that the 2014 champions want to play at the fastest clip possible while using their sizeable backs and that did that, although they were guilty of almost throwing away a certain victory.
Well ahead with 15 minutes to play Taranaki had to withstand a spirited comeback from Waikato that saw them pound away at the line only for them to lose a tighthead from a scrum that was moving forward.
In some ways it was probably cruel on Waikato's young side that they did not leave with a win such was their determination to play to the bitter end but it showed they will be a chance to make their first semifinal in seven years.
Taranaki had taken a 19-10 lead into the break after a brace of long-range tries in the last throes of the first 40 minutes saw them turn a 10-7 deficit into a deserved lead.
They had dominated long periods of the opening half, often looking the most threatening side without being able to turn their advantage into points as they often tried to do too much too early.
The home side was also guilty of not nailing several opportunities while there lineout was malfunctioning at an alarming rate.
Despite being under the pump early, it was Waikato who opened the scoring after they took advantage of a needless pass from Taranaki halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi to quickly spread the ball before flanker Mitch Jacobson had a long run in to score.
Taranaki did counter with a try to co-captain Leighton Price before they were rewarded for their adventure with excellent tries to Charlie Ngatai and Stephen Perofeta.
Nevertheless, Waikato would have gone into halftime knowing if they could garner some more solid possession they could put Taranaki under pressure given how often they fractured the home side's defence when they did have limited opportunities.
Unfortunately for the visitors it was Taranaki who quickly got back in the groove to score their fourth try as they took advantage of Waikato's inability to put the ball out when they needed to.
They did get back into the game when flanker Jordan Manihera took a quick tap from a scrum infringement to score the first of his three tries virtually untouched.
Their optimism was short-lived, it seemed, as Taranaki came back with two quick tries of their own but Waikato refused to lie down and hit back to narrow the margin to 12 points.
The theme continued as Taranaki scored again to look comfortable before Waikato stormed right back into it.
At a glance
Taranaki 34 (Leighton Price, Charlie Ngatai, Stephen Perofeta, Sean Wainui, Seta Tamanivalu, Beaudein Waaka tries; Marty McKenize 2 cons) 29 Waikato (Jordan Manihera 3, Mitch Jaconbson, tries; Dwane Sweeney 3 cons, pen). HT: 19-10.