Rugby: Waikato retain Ranfurly Shield in dramatic draw

By Niall Anderson

Waikato 20 Taranaki 20
Waikato winger Sevu Reece scores a try against Taranaki. Photo / Photosport
Waikato winger Sevu Reece scores a try against Taranaki. Photo / Photosport

Waikato have clung to the Ranfurly Shield after a remarkable 20-20 draw against Taranaki.

As challengers, Taranaki required a victory to go home with the Log of Wood, and came agonisingly close in a frantic end-to-end battle.

Indeed, they had looked to have ripped the Shield from the hosts when fullback Stephen Perofeta went under the posts to seemingly give the challengers a 27-17 lead with ten minutes to play.

However, the assistant referee called the play back to investigate an incident in the build-up, and found Seta Tamanivalu guilty of a no-arms tackle, wiping away what surely would have been a Shield-sealing try.

Waikato promptly marched down the other end, winning a penalty which was slotted by Sam Christie, before a desperate final five minutes resulted in a dramatic draw.

It was an impressive performance from Waikato considering their many injuries, with Sean Botherway's side missing two Super Rugby props in Loni Uhila and Atu Moli; starting fullback Jordan Trainor and lynchpin Damian McKenzie. Additionally, after five Shield defences against Championship and Heartland opposition, second-place Taranaki were by far Waikato's toughest challengers to date.

Despite that, the hosts were the more dangerous side throughout the contest, racking up double the metres of Taranaki and showing extreme elusiveness as the visitors missed a shocking 37 tackles.

Young winger Sevu Reece provided the bulk of the attacking impetus for Waikato, racking up 142 metres as part of a two-try display.

Those two tries bookended the halftime break, with his first putting Waikato on the board in the 39th minute, before a stunning 50 metre individual effort put them in front early in the second stanza.

His double was matched by Taranaki number eight Toa Halafihi, who regained Taranaki's lead - an advantage which nearly reached an insurmountable level as desperate Waikato goal-line defence was required to keep them within striking distance.

Down by eight points with 15 minutes to go, NPC debutant Tyler Campbell scored to keep the Moolos in the contest, before Christie - and Taminavalu's blunder - saved the Shield for Waikato.

They will require a similarly large effort to retain the Shield in their next defence, with table toppers Canterbury the next challenger in a fortnight's time.

Waikato 20 (Sevu Reece 2, Tyler Campbell tries; Sam Christie con, pen)
Taranaki 20 (Toa Halafihi 2, Jonathan Faauli tries; Marty McKenzie con, pen)
Halftime: 5-8

- NZ Herald

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