Eels switch tactics to claim final through expansive play

Wait a minute — wasn’t Taieri supposed to grind its way to victory against University in the Dunedin club final at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday afternoon?

Perhaps barge over from a couple of lineout drives, knock over a penalty or two and squeeze the juice out of the game with its trademark tenacious defence.

It is the Taieri way, right?

Well, the Eels flipped the script.

We saw glimpses of that side midway through the second half when they were closing the game out and fatigue had set in. But the first 20 to 30 minutes was a blitzkrieg.

They showed their hand in the opening minute when they swung it wide.

Centre Matt Whaanga got away a nice pass and veteran midfielder Kori Rupene bumped his way to the line and stretched an arm out to score.

Taieri players and staff celebrate with the Speight’s Championship Shield after beating...
Taieri players and staff celebrate with the Speight’s Championship Shield after beating University in the Dunedin premier club final at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Magnificent, really. And more was to come. Taieri kept attacking down the flanks and was not shy to go to the driving maul when the opportunity presented itself.

By the half-hour mark, it was up 33-0.

University rallied late in the second spell and scored a further two tries in the second half.

But the defending champion was well beaten 40-26.

Co-captain Whaanga revealed Taieri had always planned to attack wide despite talking up the tactics to bang it up the middle.

‘‘A bit of deception there,’’ he said with a wide grin.

‘‘We came out in that first 20 minutes with the most fizz I’ve ever had in a game of rugby. The boys were just into it.

‘‘It is pretty special for our community. We’ve got a lot of support and I know it would have made a lot of people’s day.’’

Taieri made about as good a start as it would have dared to dream.

After Rupene turned back the clock in the opening minute, the next five-pointer was more standard fare.

Openside Leroy Ferguson got himself in the boot of the maul and drove over.

University had not seen any ball at all and continued to play without it.

Taieri made several promising attacks and Whaanga was proving a handful.

He helped create another which No8 Sam Fischli finished off.

Then the two locks combined for a fourth try. Don Lolo picked off a pass and ran perhaps 50m before finding second-row partner Brodie Hume in support.

The hole became even deeper when Whaanga burst through a large gap and ran in to score.

The defending champion desperately needed a slice of luck.

That came late in the half. Giovanni Leituala got a nice pass away and University chipped ahead. Taieri fumbled the ball and University halfback Graham Urquhart went over.

Burly prop Carlos Policarpio drove over from a lineout drive a few minutes later and the heads lifted another notch.

But the 33-12 deficit at the break was going to take some comeback.

Taieri had an opportunity to effectively seal victory early in the second spell. Left winger William Ngatai was over but was held up.

Rupene was unmarked outside him.

Ngatai had another opportunity to score 10 minutes later but fumbled a pass with the line vulnerable.

Time was slipping away nonetheless and University needed to split a big chunk from the deficit.

The students had a 5m lineout and plan A would have been to to shunt their way over. But Taieri’s defence has been sound all year and it held up again.

University did eventually score but Ferguson, who had an impressive game, secured a charge-down and scored.

The game was over as a contest when he dotted down.

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