RAMS SURVIVE CLOSE SHAVE
NPC semi-final, Canterbury v Taranaki, Jade Stadium, CHCH,
14. 10. 00
Article: Mathew Loh
HARD, rugged rugby featured in an intense semi-final at Jade Stadium where the Canterbury Rams survived a close shave to beat an inspired Taranaki, 31-23.
The Daryl Gibson led southerners will now defend their 1999 NPC title at home against the in-form Wellington Lions.
Underdogs of the highest order the Andy Slater led Taranaki travelled south with little to lose and everything to gain and altough written off before kick-off by most pundits anyone associated with the Colin Cooper coached team would have found it hard not to predict anything but a torrid, closely-fought encounter.
From the opening kick-off the Taranaki forwards, Slater brothers - Gordon and Andy - to the fore, went slamming in rucks, mauls and anything that moved in a red and black jersey.
And despite the experience of Todd Blackadder, Scott Robertson, Norm Maxwell and their highly rated colleagues the Canterbury forwards were on the back foot and knew nothing surer than they were in for one hell of a struggle.
For Taranaki blindside Brent Thompson, A. Slater and the front row of G. Slater, Daniel Smith and Tama Tuirirangi were outstanding and their committment was the foundation on which Taranaki came close to building an upset victory.
However despite scoring first and generally looking the equal if not the better of Canterbury the Taranaki team failed to capitilise on their myriad of opportunities and in the end paid the penalty of defeat to a team which while not at it's best continued with their winning habit.
Although victorious Canterbury will be disappointed with their overall performance which was generally poor and their staunest fans will admit the red and black win was based on the brilliance of Marika Vunibaka and Andrew Mehrtens; a controversial Robertson try; and a good dose of good fortune.
But a win is a win and while far from a complete performance the Cantabrians will take heart from a win gained without a top effort and the fact they maintained their winning ways will give them food for thought for when they tackle the Lions in what is sure to be a very exciting and close battle for NPC supremecy.