Colin Cooper’s Taranaki are into the 2014 ITM Cup Premiership Final, after defeating an exciting Auckland team who were full value for the match until the Amber and Black cut loose in extra time winning 49-30.
It was a match of dominating periods for both sides, from the host’s two try opening broadside in seven minutes, to how Auckland drew level in the first half, before Taranaki took control of the game but not before once again the blue and whites would menace again.
With the scores locked at 30-30 after regulation time, the 2014 domestic season saw the first extra time contest.
However Taranaki lifted to another level in the final 20 of the 100 minute contest, scoring three tries in additional time to secure the home decider.
The Amber and Blacks, three time winners of the NPC second division (1985, 1992 and 1995) and a further four time champions of the ‘North Island second division’ (1976, 1982, 1983 and 1984) have a chance to claim their first outright major crown.
Taranaki started with fury, scoring two tries in the opening seven minutes to stun Auckland early.
In the third minute Rhys Marshall would start the immediate point’s procession with a close range score, with the TMO called into action to confirm the opening try.
As Codey Rei, who had a fine outing with the boot registering 15 points, knocked over the conversion the Taranaki attack was flash flooding Auckland.
Mitchell Crosswell would cross four minutes later in the far left corner, and Rei would slot it over right from the touchline.
Auckland would reply instantly via first five-eighth Gareth Anscombe, who controlled the game well, when he shrugged off a tackle by Marty McKenzie to scythe through the defence.
After ten minutes it was 14-7.
The blue and white retort was not finished, and when their forwards burnt metres up the heart of the Taranaki defence, a close range ruck saw George Moala scoop up the ball and brush off three tackers to dot down under the posts.
A conversion and quickly penalty to Anscombe and it was suddenly 20-14 to Auckland.
The Amber and Blacks had the last say of the first half, with James Marshall scoring a captain’s try after impressive centre Seta Tamanivalu broke through the first line of the tourist’s defensive line.
Rei and Anscombe traded penalties to close out the first half, with the hosts leading 24-23.
In the second half the teams looked to have worked each other out in the initial stages, with Rei knocking over an additional three points, but it wasn’t until the final quarter that the match sparked to life again.
Big centre Moala added his second in the 64th minute when Taranaki tried to lift the tempo with a bit of risky wide play, and by George the crowd screamed as the midfielder grabbed the ball and ran over 50 metres to score.
An Anscombe conversion made it 30-27, but again Rei would come in off his wing to slot over another long range penalty.
With less than eight minutes to play it was 30-30.
Both teams would push furiously for the winning score, with Auckland bringing on Simon Hickey in place of Melani Nanai Vai, but the full time whistle would blow, signalling extra time.
The teams had but two minutes to catch their breath, and as the clock started ticking past 80 minutes, Taranaki went on the offensive, and Waisake Naholo would score – despite some nervous moments suggesting he might not have grounded the ball.
Not to be outdone number eight Blade Thomson scored two minutes later in the far corner, followed by reserve back Jackson Ormond who would cross from long range in a devastating 12 minutes from the Amber and Black machine.
With the score at 49-30, the youthful Auckland team tried valiantly to put further points on the board but the top of the table qualifiers closed out the match.
Tries: R Marshall, Crosswell, J Marshall, Naholo, Thomson, Ormond
Cons: Rei (3), McKenzie
Pens: Rei (3)
Tries: Anscombe, Moala (2)
Cons: Anscombe (3)
Pens: Anscombe (3)