DAVID LINTOTT PHOTOGRAPHY
Winger Waisake Naholo played well in another dominate Taranaki performance in Whangarei tonight.
Taranaki have claimed their fifth consecutive win after an entertaining 31-20 win over Northland in Whangarei.
The bonus point four tries to two win leaves Taranaki on 27 points and at the top of the premiership table, for now, but continue to be one of the serious contenders in this year’s competition.
In a sloppy match which went down to the wire until the 78th minute, coach Colin Cooper will be happy with his experienced and Super players who stepped up in the match. However they could have made more of the opportunities that were presented to them.
Northland’s defence was excellent throughout the match, despite playing their third game in 10 days and robbed Taranaki of plenty of point scoring opportunities.
Early pressure was applied by Taranaki right from the kick off as Northland dropped the ball forcing a scrum seconds into the match. The homeside forced a penalty from the subsequent scrum which was weakened by a strong shoved from the amber and blacks.
Taranaki showed they were there to play with quick hands swinging the ball both left and right with variety on attack.
Taranaki got up to an early 3-0 lead after first five-eighth Marty McKenzie missed the earlier opportunity.
Northland then lost Jone Macilai to the sin bin after a late tip-tackle on Kurt Baker, which left Baker with what looked like a shoulder injury and was forced to leave the field.
The homeside was the first to score after an excellent set piece which set up centre Brook Gilmore but it was the slick work of first five Daniel Hawkins who sliced through an unusual gap in the defence.
Taranaki then bounced back to 7-6 thanks to another penalty kick to McKenzie.
They then put the foot down and were rewarded after a patient build up putting together a number of phases. Captain James Marshall took the quick tap from the back of a ruck close to Northland’s line and flung the ball out wide for form mid-fielder Seta Tamanivalu to dot down.
With the scoreline at 11-7, it looked like Taranaki were about to score again but having put together 17 phases, Northland’s defence was outstanding and forced the error for them to get out of jail.
Taranaki went to the sheds with the halftime advantage and dominate territory and possession having spent nine minutes in Northland’s 22m in the first half.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Northland had much of the ball in a similar start as the first.
Both sides kicked a penalty early in the second half for the score to remain tight at 14-10.
But it was the senior players in the Taranaki side who managed to control things with Marshall using his deceptive left foot step to move around several players in the process. Second five Charlie Ngatai also gained several meters over the gain line.
Northland felt the pinch in the second half as they missed 16 tackles three-quarters of the way through.
Taranaki’s scrum continues to impressive with prop Angus Ta’avoa, who came off the bench, forced several penalties before scrums went to uncontested during the second half.
A 20 metre rolling maul from a lineout, laid the foundations for another Taranaki try. The ball was passed through the backline before wing Waisake Naholo threw the ball back in field near the touchline and it was regathered at McKenzie’s feet for him to dash to the line and score his tenth ITM Cup try. Referee Grant Stuart and his Assistant Referee were unsure whether it was knocked on by McKenzie so they referred the decision upstairs but the try was awarded shortly after.
He then failed to kick the extras on top of his try but the visitors had the 19-10 lead.
Northland added another penalty kick before Taranaki scored again thanks to slick work by Blade Thomson. All Black contender James Broadhurst had three carries in the movement before the try but it was the lock who got his name on the score sheet.
Northland’s Macilai, who was guilty of the yellow card in the first half scored in the games best try. It was the work by the entire team who set him up though an excellent burst down the touchline by his insider. The conversion was successful by Hawkins with Northland attempting to come back as they were trailing by 24-20 with five minutes to play.
Despite having the ball late in the game, Northland conceded a turnover with Taranaki halfback Jamison Gibson-Park running up the guts of the field before passing on the outside to Waisake Naholo to score and extend the lead to 31-20 thanks also to the conversion.
Taranaki 31 (Seta Tamanivalu, Marty McKenize, Blade Thomson, Waisake Naholo tries; McKenzie 2 pens, con, Codey Rei pen)
Northland 20 (Brook Gilmore, Jone Macilai tries; Dan Hawkins 2 cons, 2 pens).