The Ranfurly Shield is safe with Taranaki, but it was Wanganui who could hold their heads highest, after Saturday afternoon’s contest in Hawera.
In real contrast to last weekend’s 78-0 thrashing of Poverty Bay in Tikorangi, the holders were unconvincing at TSB Hub, eventually ending the day 33-10 winners, following a 5-5 second-half stalemate.
Wanganui had never won the Shield in 30 previous attempts, and the three-time defending Meads Cup champions, fielding six first-class debutants, gave a fine account of themselves in the David and Goliath contest that these fixtures are against the Heartland Championship sides.
The ‘Butcher Boys’ held out the hosts for almost the first quarter, before a 28-point spree within 10 minutes resembled a scoreline more like the one predicted. Only Taranaki weren’t much more clinical after that and Wanganui tested their defence plenty too.
Taranaki coach Willie Rickards, who captained the amber and blacks to a Shield defence against Wanganui in 2012, had made 11 changes from last week, including the return of Blues first five-eighth Stephen Perofeta, playing at second-five, against a Wanganui province he represented back in 2015; while Chiefs halfback and All Blacks squad member Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi also featured, playing the second half.
The hosts made all the early running, but were also their own worst enemies – impatiently offloading, and fumbling passes, to build frustrations and keep belief intact for the visitors, who successfully slowed things with breakdown infringements.
Wanganui got back into the Taranaki half in the 17th minute for the first time since the kickoff, but a wayward lineout sent them back downtown, and from there the hosts got their act together, with some slick ball movement from their own lineout seeing left winger Kiniviliame Naholo go in for the opening points.
The younger brother of All Black Waisake had scored a double in his 40-minute run last weekend, going into his first year of Mitre 10 Cup rugby, though the 19-year-old’s day was done a few minutes later due to an injury.
Thanks to a dominant scrum Taranaki were awarded a 23rd minute penalty try, then straight from the restart Perofeta ignited an attack from deep and the hosts went the length of the park, with winger Avon Lewis finishing, before he was right in the action not long later, as, faced with an oncoming four-on-one overlap, he managed to snap up an intercept and race away to the corner.
Wanganui botched a chance to get on the board in the 33rd minute, when first-five and captain Dane Whale didn’t unload close to the line and tried to duck over himself near the left corner, but it didn’t matter in the end as from the ensuing scrum No 8 Tremaine Gilbert powered his way over in the very same spot.
The try seemed to inspire the visitors, who got themselves more attacking possession, made inroads through hard-running midfielders Penijamini Nabainivalu and Kameli Kuruyabaki, and worked well to keep the ball alive, before eventually having to go to halftime with the score still 28-5.
The second spell didn’t take long to turn into an error-fest for both teams, but it was Wanganui who enjoyed most of the territory. And come the 68th minute they had reward for their endeavours, with Taranaki fullback Jayson Potroz dropping a cross-field kick and Wanganui winger Simon Dibben diving on the loose ball in in-goal.
Any thoughts of a miraculous comeback were put to bed a couple of minutes later though, with Taranaki centre Brayton Northcott-Hill dummying and going 45 metres to finish a long-range attack.
Taranaki’s next Shield challenge will come in the second round of the Mitre 10 Cup on August 24, from Manawatu – who they beat in their one and only defence last year after winning the log off Canterbury.
AT A GLANCE
Taranaki 33 (Avon Lewis 2, Kiniviliame Naholo, Brayton Northcott-Hill tries, penalty try; Beaudein Waaka 3 con)
Wanganui 10 (Tremaine Gilbert, Simon Dibben tries) HT: 28-5