Barnstorming No.8 Iopu Iopu-Aso and 25 points from Marty McKenzie helped Taranaki overcome a 0-14 deficit to secure a comfortable 53-26 win against Hawke’s Bay on Saturday.
Hawke’s Bay brought the game to life with two quick tries in the opening quarter, but for the next 60 minutes it was the hosts who dictated play. The hosts scored 31 unanswered points either side of halftime to ensure they held a comfortable lead with a quarter of the match remaining.
Hawke’s Bay continued to threaten and scored a couple of tries of their own through Ihaia West and Geoff Cridge, but their defence were left battered and bruised as Taranaki showcased their title credentials.
The hosts’ margin of victory was the joint-highest for the Bulls, while the 55 points they scored was the highest accrual in their 131-year history with Hawke’s Bay.
It was another sensational victory for Taranaki, their fourth win in fifth games against the Magpies – all of which have been at home. For Hawke’s Bay, the chance to secure their first win in Taranaki for 44 years slipped embarrassingly through their fingers.
The Magpies have five days to lick their wounds and regather for a crucial match at home against Counties Manukau that could have serious implications for their Premiership survival. The hosts, meanwhile, have a week to enjoy their win before travelling to Nelson to play Tasman next Saturday.
With two wins from two, Taranaki move to the top of the Premiership with nine competition points, four clear of Canterbury who play Tasman on Saturday night. Hawke’s Bay secured a bonus point in the 69th minute, and move up one spot to sixth ahead of Counties Manukau.
Hawke’s Bay started white-hot, and scored twice in the opening quarter in contrasting fashion. Outstanding centre Jonah Lowe opened the scoring for the hosts after eight minutes thanks to a superb cut-out pass from Ihaia West and an easy draw-and-pass from Mason Emerson.
Lowe looked to have scored a second from in a 50 metre effort from a lineout move, but prop Ben May was alleged to have obstructed, and it was denied.
The visitors were in again soon after through captain Ash Dixon, who intercepted an in-goal pass from Te Tohu Tuhiorangi and dotted down close to the goalposts.
But Taranaki got into their work, and a McKenzie penalty got them on the before captain Mitchell Crosswell reduced the deficit to 10-14 at half-time.
The Bulls continued to charge after the break, and they were rewarded with tries to Iopu-Aso, Marshall and Mataele in the opening 15 minutes of the second half to take a 31-14 lead with just under 25 minutes to play.
Mataele’s try was the most spectacular, with the Fijian winger fending off three players and sidestepping past two more to give the hosts a 17-point lead.
Some quick thinking from Ihaia West closed the gap, but Marty McKenzie responded with a try and a penalty to stifle any hopes of a Magpies comeback.
Geoff Cridge ensured Hawke’s Bay secured a bonus point, but that was as sweet as it got for the visitors as Declan O’Donnell iced the cake for the hosts.
Iopu-Aso was one of the best players on the park for the Bulls, while 19-year-old first five-eighth Stephen Perofeta showed glimpses of brilliance in combination with Tahuriorangi. McKenzie, too, illustrated his point-scoring prowess with a near-perfect day (9/10) with the kicking tee.
For the visitors, Weber put on a masterclass display at halfback, with a number of sensational linebreaks that will give All Blacks coach Steve Hansen plenty to ponder.
Taranaki 55 (Trinity Spooner-Nera, Declan O’Donnell, Marty McKenzie, Manasa Mataele, Rhys Marshall, Iopu Iopu-Aso, Mitchell Crosswell try; McKenzie 7 con, 2 pen)
Hawke’s Bay 28 (Geoff Cridge, Ihaia West, Ash Dixon, Jonah Lowe tries; West 4 con)