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The perfect 10, Taranaki claim NPC Championship with win over Otago in final


Taranaki are the 2021 NPC Championship winners, having defeated Otago 32-19 in the final in Inglewood on Saturday.

In hot conditions and not a cloud in the sky, Taranaki got the result most expected and have completed a season where they won all 10 of the games they played. The victory possibly gives Taranaki the chance to create history next season, to become the first province to win back to back Championship finals.

New Zealand Rugby decided some time ago that as the three Auckland provinces wouldn’t be able to compete this year because of Covid-19 restrictions, there wouldn’t be any promotion or relegation between the Premiership and Championship.

It was the perfect way to finish the perfect season for Taranaki.

William Booth/Photosport

It was the perfect way to finish the perfect season for Taranaki.

Taranaki coach Neil Barnes was quick to voice his frustrations about the decision, but to no avail and unless there’s a reconfiguration of the NPC next year, which is possible, then Taranaki will be back in the second tier of provincial rugby in 2022.

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That fact may take some of the shine off this victory, but it shouldn’t be forgotten just how dominant Taranaki have been this year.

They won every game they’ve played, including victories over Tasman and Waikato, the teams playing in the Premiership final. So it could be argued that Taranaki are the best province in New Zealand this year and their dominance does highlight the absurdity of the current format of provincial rugby.

Pita Gus Sowakula shows his skills, offloading the ball during Taranaki's win over Otago.

William Booth/Photosport

Pita Gus Sowakula shows his skills, offloading the ball during Taranaki’s win over Otago.

But credit to Otago for making Taranaki battle hard for this win and their tight five were excellent in the forward exchanges.

It was Taranaki’s work with the ball in hand that stood out in this final, with backs and forwards interlinking with passes and offloads, to continually keep the ball moving and stopping the Otago defence from getting organised.

Taranaki were on the board by the third minute with a try. The play started from a lineout on the left, the ball was moved along the backline, with a couple of nice cut out passes and it resulted in a try to loosehead prop Jared Proffit.

But two minutes later Otago had a try, with Josh Hill charging down a clearance kick from Stephen Perofeta, then picked up the ball and scored untouched.

Despite the loss, Sam Gilbert and others in the Otago side put in a gutsy performance.

William Booth

Despite the loss, Sam Gilbert and others in the Otago side put in a gutsy performance.

It was a fortunate try for Otago, but it was only a matter of time before Taranaki went back in front, with Daniel Waite scoring in the 19th minute, finishing off a well worked move.

After a Perofeta penalty Josh Ioane threw a stunning no-look pass behind him to winger Vilimoni Koroi to set up Otago for their second try.

But in the penultimate minute of the half Taranaki lock Mickey Wooliams showed great strength to force himself through two defenders to get close to the goal line, then placed the ball over it for the try.

With a 22-12 lead to start the second half Taranaki had one hand on the trophy and they had a couple more fingers on it in the 44th minute when winger Kini Naholo chased down a through kick and grounded it in goal.

With 30 minutes to go Taranaki first-five Jayson Potros was shown a yellow card for deliberately knocking the ball on under his team’s posts to stop Otago from scoring.

With that man advantage Otago quickly made Taranaki pay as Ioane hit the line at pace to score.

But after that try Taranaki did well at managing the game to wind down the clock and not giving Otago any hope of a comeback, with some resolute goal-line defence.

AT A GLANCE

Taranaki 32 (Jared Proffit, Daniel Waite, Michael Wooliams, Kini Naholo tries; Stephen Perofeta 3 cons, 2 pens). Otago 19 (Josh Hill, Vilimoni Koroi, Josh Ioane tries; Josh Ioane 2 cons). HT: 22-12



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