Taranaki wrote themselves into the rich history of Ranfurly Shield rugby with one of the most outstanding challenges to end Canterbury’s reign with a 55–43 win at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Friday.
It defied belief that Taranaki could come back from 0-24 down after only 19 minutes of the game. But come back they did and in the final 54 minutes of the game they outscored the holders 48-12. It was a game of flowing movements and high-pressure play that sometimes stretched credibility.
Inspiring play from centre/wing Seta Tamanivalu, flanker Lachlan Boshier and No.8 Toa Halafihi pulled Taranaki back from an abyss against the side who have dominated Mitre 10 Cup rugby this year. Boshier’s defensive play, ability over the ball at the ruck and support play were out of the top drawer of loose forward play.
Complementing their efforts was a flawless goal-kicking display by fullback Marty McKenzie who converted all seven of the side’s tries while adding a penalty goal for good measure.
The win also left the two sides on 36 points in the Premiership race but Taranaki with a game in hand have the chance to finish on top. They will defend the shield against Manawatu next weekend.
Taranaki started off with all the fizz associated with Shield challengers but in failing to keep ball in key situations they allowed Canterbury to call the tune. That was highlighted in the first few minutes when halfback Te Toiroa Tahuiorangi left the ball sitting at the base of the ruck for too long. Canterbury were onto the ball in a flash.
Eight minutes into the game the defenders seized their first chance and when centre Tim Bateman ran hard at the line, the defence were drawn in and he slipped the ball to second five-eighths Rob Thompson who scored.
From the re-start, Taranaki went short but failed to control the ball and Thompson exploded onto it and raced downfield and passed to wing Brayden Ennor who set the ruck and after a strong run by fullback George Bridge, ruck ball provided flanker Tom Sanders with a chance on the blindside and he scored.
Needing to get into catch-up mode too early for comfort, Taranaki looked to build chances only to have first five-eighths Stephen Perofeta threw a pass which was intercepted by Bateman who had the legs to make it 65m to the goal-line.
However, Taranaki proved they were just as capable when Tamanivalu latched onto a Thompson pass and was unchallenged to get his side on the board after 22 minutes.
Typically, Canterbury kept the pressure and when McKenzie pushed a kick too long, the home team were able to set a midfield scrum and then create a chance, albeit after a superb, if flukish, tip-on by Batemen to Bridge, the fullback beat three tacklers in cutting back infield to score under the posts.
Seven minutes from half-time McKenzie was in the backline at second five-eighths to prop after receiving the ball. That opened a gap which he sped through before passing inside to Perofeta who showed his attacking class in stepping his way to the goal-line to score.
Taranaki went back onto attack and from a penalty just out from their line, Tamanivalu took a tap and charged at the line. However, it took two or three efforts to create the chance which was taken finally by flanker Pita Sowakula which pulled the margin back to only 10 points at the break when it looked as if it might be much worse.
Canterbury made their attitude clear at the start of the second when Sanders made a storming run only to be held up over the line with five beaten defenders behind him. But when Taranaki had done the hard work defending their line a Perofeta clearing kick was taken by Mo’unga who ran back hard, beating Declan O’Donnell’s tackle and setting up wing Brayden Ennor to finish with a run at the line to score his ninth try of the season.
Taranaki refused to be bowed and responded with two tries in three minutes. The first from a lineout after a penalty kick to the corner saw hooker Ricky Riccitelli over, then after Charlie Ngatai had been introduced from the bench, he threw a long pass to wing Manasa Mataele. From the ruck when he was stopped the ball moved back and from a mid-field ruck Tahuiriorangi threw a long ball to Tamanivalu, who had moved to the wing.
He was close to the sideline but timed his pass inside to flanker Lachlan Boshier perfectly and he scored, a fitting reward for some outstanding work which contributed significantly to Taranaki’s remarkable revival.
And four minutes later McKenzie landed a penalty goal which drew the scores level at 38-38 with 24 minutes remaining.
The break came after hard work in midfield again and it was Boshier who finished off with a 68th minute try in the corner.
Two minutes later the die was cast when Mo’unga looked to chip a kick over Mataele but he plucked the ball out of the air and ran 50m for the crucial try.
Then, four minutes from the end Perofeta over a dropped goal which put the issue beyond doubt, even if Thompson scored a late consolation try.
Scorers: Canterbury 43 (Rob Thompson 2, Tom Sanders, Tim Bateman, George Bridge, Brayden Ennor tries; Richie Mo’unga 5 con, pen)
Taranaki 55 (Seta Tamanivalu, Stephen Perofeta, Pita Sowakula, Ricky Riccitelli, Lachlan Boshier 2, Manasa Mataele tries; Marty McKenzie 7 con, pen; Perofeta dropped goal)