From now on, Steelform Wanganui should only accept their mandatory Ranfurly Shield challenges for the August preseason, after another commendable effort in Hawera on Saturday.

Similar to the brave challenge to Waikato of August 2016, while erasing the disappointment of the deliberately inconvenient Canterbury fixture last June, Wanganui were able to pull Taranaki into a scrappy dog fight at Hicks Park.

They scored two tries and actually tied the second half with their more vaunted Mitre 10 Cup Premiership opposition in the 33-10 loss.

Taranaki were reinforced by the last minute addition of their Blues second-five and former Wanganui star Stephen Perofeta, but while they had significant advantages in line speed and power, their plucky Heartland neighbours still hung in with them for the majority of the contest.

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It was only at the beginning of the second quarter of the match, having defended their half continuously, that Wanganui stagnated into a mental lapse with their backline defensive screen.

Taranaki‘s in-form fullback Jayson Potroz timed his arrivals perfectly to set up successive line breaks, which was part of a 21-point scoring burst when coupled with an automatic seven-point penalty try, as Wanganui had desperately tried to hold up the home team‘s 5m scrum drive.

But if the Taranaki fans figured the floodgates would open like they did against Poverty Bay, Wanganui reminded them they may be from amateur rugby, but they are still champions.

A close range try from No8 Tremaine Gilbert, one of three survivors from the 2012 Taranaki challenge, gave the challengers a boost not long before halftime.

Turning to harness the wind, Wanganui played with the better of the territory in the second half, still tackling their hearts out and trying to break the line even if they could not get the same roll-on as their professional opposition.

Captain Dane Whale‘s cross kick was challenged by fullback Shandon Scott in the air at the tryline, with Taranaki losing the ball for reserve winger Simon Dibben, another 2012 survivor, to dive on it to claim the five points.

Taranaki responded in the final ten minutes with some outstanding ball control by lock Jarrad Hoeata and double tryscoring winger Avon Lewis to save loose passes, so that centre Brayton Northcott-Hill could dash away for the try of the match.

But other than that, Taranaki coach Willie Rickards should be happy Wanganui was made of sterner stuff than the previous weekend‘s opposition, as his side were pressed into making a lot of errors, which he can address at training before the season proper kicks off.

It was almost too fair dinkum, as several Taranaki players were guided off with untimely injuries, including dangerous winger Kiniviliame Naholo.

In pictures:

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Taranaki captain and flanker Mitchell Crosswell had an excellent first half, pinching a couple of Wanganui lineout throws, as their young hooker Jack Yarrall was put under a whole new level of pressure, mostly having to throw to the back.

Giving 80 minute efforts, Wanganui lock Sam Madams and Gilbert were outstanding, while Campbell Hart took off the head gear and did not look like he had missed a step despite a month without rugby.

Perhaps the biggest positive for Wanganui was rather than just consoling themselves with the honour of playing a Shield match, which was all they got out of the Canterbury rout, they are encouraged to work on the little things they got wrong, aware no other opponent this season should be that strong.

“Very proud, but I think we could have been 10 points closer,” said coach Jason Caskey.

“A couple of crucial tries we let in that first half.”

Wanganui had just started to get the ball in hand when Lewis plucked out an intercept try off a set move between midfielders Penijamini Nabainivalu and Kameli Kuruyabaki to make it 28-0, while halfback Lindsay Horrocks was caught just inches from the tryline following a breakout from the ruck by prop Viki Tofa in the second stanza.

“There was a few of these [moments] we take off,” said Caskey.

“We said, ‘if every player from No1 to No23 can go through without missing a tackle, you‘re going to be somewhere around it‘.”

Nabainivalu and Horrocks were two of Wanganui‘s standouts – as Horrocks was at his nuggety best when hounding his opposite Logan Crowley, while Nabainvalu was a handful out wide and cleaned up expat Perofeta with a ripper of a tackle to snuff out a possible second half try.

Second five Penijamini Nabainivalu had an excellent match in his debut first-class game for Wanganui since transferring from Buller. facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

Yarrall and his replacement Dylan Gallien had the ultimate test of their composure, with injured skipper Roman Tutauha having worked diligently with both young hookers.

“Everything you do in there you have to be so accurate. It‘s that next step up,” said Caskey.

The day was an honour for new captain Dane Whale, whose father Kerry had led Wanganui the last time they beat Taranaki, also in Hawera, back in 1987.

“Dad was trying to put that pressure on me,” he laughed.

“Bit of fun, pretty proud to represent my family and Wanganui rugby.

“Gutsy second half, I thought the boys really came together.”

Whale‘s only regret was the chink in the structural integrity of the outside backs in the first half, which was addressed, but not before the home side exploited it.

“It wasn‘t mistakes. We just got a bit soft there.

“We switched off, you can‘t do that against these guys.”

It took nearly 19 minutes before Taranaki opened their account, despite total territory dominance and a mounting penalty count from referee Mike Lash.

But when they did score it was well-worked, as they spread from a penalty lineout and Potroz ran the angle, forcing Kuruyabaki to come in and leaving Naholo unmarked to waltz over in the corner.

First-five Beaudein Waaka (three from four) brought his kicking boots, but he didn‘t need them for the second try as No 8 Toa Halafihi twice controlled ball at the back of 5m scrums, as Lash saw Wanganui turning the second attempt, with Whale joining in, and jogged to the posts for 14-0.

Only moments later, Perofeta ran to Wanganui‘s vulnerable left flank and found Waaka, who switched play back inside, as lock Kane Thompson fed Lewis to dash away.

Lewis then popped up again to snatch Kuruyabaki‘s pass and no one could catch him going into the far corner, with Waaka again raising the flags from the sideline for 28-0.

But Wanganui did not fade away, as a rare penalty got them an attacking lineout as flanker Jamie Hughes went off the back, with Nabainivalu and then Horrocks all-but scoring, having to settle for a 5m scrum.

Wanganui showed good control in the face of hard tackling and eventually transferred the ball to Gilbert on the blindside to force his way over.

The scoreline would stay at 28-5 for some time, as Wanganui began to roll on second half subs, blooding several of their eager youngsters.

Getting momentum with the breeze and the boot of Whale, while finally having the rub of the green with Lash‘s whistle, Wanganui could play in Taranaki‘s half and eventually Whale‘s cross kick came up trumps for Dibben, after the rarity of a Heartland team having to wait for a TV referee‘s decision.

It would have been embarrassing for the home side to lose a 40-minute period, but they levelled with Northcott-Hill‘s excellent try after Hoeata and Lewis saved loose passes.

Yet Taranaki would not get to 50 points or even crack 40, thanks to resolute Wanganui defence right to the finish.

Taranaki 33 (A Lewis 2, L Naholo, B Northcott-Hill tries, penalty try; B Waaka 3 con) bt Wanganui 10 (T Gilbert, S Dibben tries). HT: 28-5.

The Ranfurly Shield in all it‘s glory in Hawera on Saturday. facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit