22 v 14
Taranaki looked down and out when trailing 0-22 early in the second half but they came storming back to give the home team an end of season fright at Waikato Stadium before Waikato won 22-14.
Ultimately, it was Waikato’s superior defence and consistency in all facets that sealed the win, but Taranaki left their fans wondering what they were capable of, even if they hadn’t been able to show it during a disappointing season.
Early on it was a tough forward grind with a strong breeze blowing into the Taranaki faces in the first half and both packs sought the edge.
Waikato benefited first after a solid build-up and constant probing on the blindside. Having seen the low numbers charging into the Taranaki defenders time after time, halfback Brad Webber spotted a gap and went for it successfully to link with second five-eighths Jackson Willison who was perfectly placed to dive over.
Waikato had been unable to benefit from two startling midfield breaks by Taranaki left-wing Semisi Masirewa but when centre Save Tokula pierced the line, Webber was handy again and sent a pass to No.8 Adam Burn in the goalmouth.
The retreating Taranaki lock Jarrad Hoeata impeded Burn when he had the goal-line unguarded and a penalty try was awarded to the home team for which Hoeata was sent to the sin-bin.
Any hope that Taranaki had that the turnaround would be a help to their recovery was immediately undone when they failed to secure the re-start. Waikato poured onto the ball, took it upfield and after strong runs by Burn, the ball was freed and first five-eighths Sam Christie scooped a low pass from the carpet and broke outside a defender to score.
Taranaki second five-eighths Seta Tamanivalu produced a superb piece of opportunism in the 54th minute after Taranaki opted for a lineout from a penalty. Out of nothing he created the chance for himself as he three times warded off defenders before getting the ball down over in the corner.
Taranaki’s confidence rose and they were soon back on attack and as replacement lock James Broadhurst ploughed towards the goal-line, it was replacement halfback Jamison Gibson-Park who was ferreting for ball in the maul. It came slowly, allowing Taranaki extra time when he got his hands on the ball.
But in an impressive display, Gibson-Park got a pass away to wing Andre Taylor who ran at top speed into the teeth of the defenders but proved unstoppable in scoring. His conversion brought Taranaki to 14-22.
However, into the last eight minutes, Taylor had a chance to add three more points but he was well wide with his attempt. It was the first of three lost opportunities for the visitors.
On the end of the line prop replacement Carl Carmichael looked to have the chance for the try but he lost his footing and ended up on his back. Then from the resulting play hard-working skipper Kane Barrett lost the ball going for the line.
Waikato’s defenders were desperate and held out a belated attack
Waikato 22 (Jackson Willison, Penalty try, Sam Christie tries; Trent Renata 2 con, pen)
Taranaki 14 (Seta Tamanivalu, Andre Taylor tries; Taylor 2 con ).