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Taranaki took a different approach in the opening 40 minutes of their Ranfurly Shield defence against Waikato on Sunday, and it did not go well.
For their third time in a row, Taranaki saw their reign with the Ranfurly Shield ended by the Mooloos, with Waikato running rampant over the hosts to claim an impressive 33-19 win and hoist the Log of Wood. There was only one positive for the few fans who turned up at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth – it was a beautiful day, so at least you could see the mountain.
The visitors stunned Taranaki by scoring five tries in the first half, taking a 33-7 lead in what was their best 40 minutes of football this season. While Taranaki gave away penalties and coughed up the football, Waikato remained disciplined and didn't miss an opportunity to strike.
Ahead by 26 at the break, it was a convincing margin – but by no means a safe one. When Taranaki won the Shield against Canterbury last year, the Bulls came back from a 31-7 deficit. Out of the break, they looked set on repeating that feat, with Manasa Mataele and Seta Tamanivalu running in early tries to close the gap to 14.
While the Waikato attack dwindled off in the second half as Taranaki lifted, the visitors' defence stayed solid. Taranaki had the bulk of possession in the second 40 minutes, but had a lot of trouble penetrating Waikato's defensive wall, which held strong despite seeing their penalty count increase.
The sleepy start ultimately cost the hosts, who lost both the Shield and touch with the Premiership leaders.
Waikato now have the looming possibility of holding the Ranfurly Shield for the shortest amount of time in history – with their first defence against Hawke's Bay on Thursday.
But, for now, Waikato can celebrate their 11th reign as Shield holders, and their second victory in a row after going 10 matches without one.
They joined Wellington in the winner's circle, with the Lions seeing off North Harbour 35-23. The sides traded blows throughout the match, but tries in the dying stages to Wes Goosen and Jackson Garden-Bachop gave Wellington a flattering victory.
Waikato 33 (Dwayne Sweeney, Adam Burn, James Tucker, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Quinn Tapaea tries; Fletcher Smith 4 cons)
Taranaki 19 (Regan Ware, Manasa Mataele, Seta Tamanivalu tries; Beaudien Waaka 2 cons).
Wellington 35 (Asafo Aumua, Kerama Hauiti-Parapara, Malo Tuitama, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop tries; Garden-Bachop 2 cons, 2 pens)
North Harbour 23 (Tevita Li, Matt Duffie tries; Bryn Gatland 2 cons, 3 pens).