Taranaki's big men serve up tough win

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Friday, September 15, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

In conditions tailor-made for the grunt work of the front-five, Taranaki showed the greater patience, and more effective defensive work, against a Bay of Plenty team that had enough ball to put plenty of pressure on the home defence.

Taranaki captain and prop Angus Ta'avao was in outstanding touch not only in the usual cleanout and set-up work but in supporting ball carriers, and his fellow prop Mitch Graham and hooker Ricky Riccitelli were not far behind.

It wasn't until the 73rd minute, when wing Manasa Mataele's intercept try took Taranaki well clear, that the win was secure.

But, as if in celebration, there was still time in the 77th minute for Taranaki to produce a stunning try moments after having lost flanker Lachlan Boshier to the sin-bin.

It came from a fine scrum on their own line where they upset Bay of Plenty ball. Replacement halfback Kylem O'Donnell fed blindside wing Mataele who in-passed to supporting flanker Pita Sowakula who defied gravity to stay inside the touchline on an effective run.

O'Donnell stayed inside and took the return pass before flinging a wide ball where fullback Marty McKenzie performed a miracle in grasping the ball. He gave wing Seta Tamanivalu a chance down the left. When tackled the ball emerged and it was replacement prop Sione Lea, who ran onto a nicely-weighted pass to score on his 50th appearance for the side.

Bay of Plenty hammered the Taranaki line during the middle stages of the first half but had nothing to show for it, even a solitary penalty goal attempt by first five-eighths Kelly Haimona not providing some reward. Some early issues with the Taranaki lineout did not help the home cause as they attempted to get out of trouble.

The ability to absorb the pressure brought some relief in the 27th minute when McKenzie landed a penalty goal. However, they lost skipper and second five-eighths Charlie Ngatai to a head knock and a failed HIA test.

Bay of Plenty suffered a more immediate loss when flanker Henry Stowers was sin-binned in the 33rd minute when executing a tip tackle on Taranaki No.8 Toa Halafihi.

From the penalty, Taranaki kicked to the corner, and while their lineout inefficiencies saw the immediate chance to score lost, they recovered the ball and Ngatai's replacement, Johnny Fa'auli made the most of a blindside move to draw two defenders and then flick a backhand pass to unmarked wing Declan O'Donnell who scored.

Before Stowers got back, after the half-time break, Sowakula broke from a ruck on halfway and created an opening for halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi who took the ball into the 22m area where Ta'avao surged ahead and then got a superb pass to Graham who scored between the posts.

Led by flanker Jesse Parete, who made some impressive runs with ball in hand, put 18 phases together as they built the chance to retaliate in the Taranaki 22m are but as replacement forward James Lay knocked it on, and from the scrum Bay of Plenty were penalised.

However, after the final hooter there was belated reward when replacement back Elijah Nicholas scored.

Scorers: Taranaki 29 (Declan O'Donnell, Mitchell Graham, Manasa Mataele, Sione Lea tries; Marty McKenzie 3 con, pen) Bay of Plenty 7 (Elijah Nicholas try; Mike Delany con). HT: 8-0