Taranaki's gamble with early subs nearly backfires
The relief was evident on the faces inside the Taranaki coaching box on Saturday night after they escaped with a 34-29 win over Waikato in the opening round of the national provincial rugby competition.
Ahead 34-15 with 20 minutes to play, Taranaki coach Colin Cooper opted to almost clear the bench as he took a host of experienced players off.
What followed was a nervous end to the Mitre 10 Cup premiership match as Waikato scored two tries and came within a body length of scoring to almost snatch an unlikely victory.
When the fog from the heavy breathing inside that box cleared there was a realisation that in the long run the pressure many of the reserves were put under might be of some considerable benefit later in the season.
Add in the positive aspects of six tries being scored, the backline being a constant threat and the scrum impressing and the negatives slip a bit into the background.
Well, almost. There was no hiding the fact the lineout operated as well as a fuel less car, the option taking at times was head scratching and they missed too many tackles.
"There are certainly some big learnings to take from that," Cooper said post-match.
"I thought we had some good stages in the game when we scored some nice tries but gee, that last 15 minutes was all Waikato. We went back into cruise mode for a time, thinking it was just going to happen."
The last throes of the match certainly brought back memories of the 2015 Otago game when Taranaki let a big lead slip but thankfully for Cooper, the result was different this time around.
He was also confident the lineout woes would be fixed reasonably easily.
"It has to if we want to be a top four contender."
The potency of some of the Taranaki backs was fully evident as they scored some excellent long-range tries, often in quick succession, while there was some equally impressive work from the likes of Angus Ta'avao and Toa Halafihi up front.
Cooper agreed that some of the option taking needs to improve.
"I thought we were doing missed passes when all we needed was hands. My halftime message was just to stay in the structure because we were playing too much as individuals and that was not going to win it.
"We went away from that but it was good for us and we will take a lot of lessons on before we go to Wellington."
Ta'avao, who took over the captaincy after Leighton Price and Charlie Ngatai left the field, also thought the nature of the victory might have a positive spin-off down the track.
"I've been with teams before who have lost those sorts of games but we've come out with the points and it was better to happen now because these younger boys should have learnt if you switch off at any time you can walk away with nothing," he said.
He thought the forward pack let backs down a bit with the sort of ball they produced.
"They probably carried us a bit today, which is not what we want. But in terms of team we have had a lot of guys come back late so we will get a lot better."
At a glance
Taranaki 34 (Leighton Price, Charlie Ngatai, Stephen Perofeta, Sean Wainui, Seta Tamanivalu, Beaudein Waaka tries; Marty McKenize 2 cons) Waikato 29 (Jordan Manihera 3, Mitch Jaconbson, tries; Dwane Sweeney 3 cons, pen). HT: 19-10.