The Yarrows Taranaki Bulls have fallen short in their quest to regain the Ranfurly Shield, succumbing 35-27 to Otago in a rugby match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, on Sunday evening.
Otago took a 17-13 lead into the break, with converted tries after two minutes and after the halftime hooter.
In between times, Taranaki had played the majority of the rugby. But its only reward was a try to Mitch Brown, which Daniel Waite converted to add to the two penalties he had also goaled.
But it should have been completely different, with the Bulls blowing four very real try scoring opportunities with handling errors.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi spilled the final pass twice with the line beckoning, while Sean Wainui, without luck, and Jayson Potroz were also denied.
Waisake Naholo found plenty of space and set up the Brown try after a strong run, while Stephen Perofeta also cut Otago apart a number of times.
The Brown try had given Taranaki the lead for the first time. But it was short-lived with Jona Nareki scoring after some feckless defence.
Aleki Morris-Lomé had scored the opening try, with the hosts electric in the opening minutes.
Vilimoni Koroi, in from the wing for Josh Ioane, bookended the half with two brilliant sideline conversions.
Koroi then opened the second spell with another sideline conversion this time to his own try, with Taranaki again slow to get going.
But the next period of play belonged to the Bulls.
Perofeta scored, and on the 11 minute mark Teihorangi Walden crossed, both tries coming after the Otago defence had been broken and both try scorers showed good pace.
The reliable Waite, aside from one penalty miss, converted both tries to give Taranaki a 27-24 lead.
But as the personnel changes started, it was Otago who did the better.
A Koroi penalty levelled the scores after 58 minutes before Nareki's second try after a sustained period on attack swung the momentum to Otago.
Further salt was rubbed into the Taranaki wound at 67 minutes, with Koroi slotting a wide-angle penalty after Otago had won a penalty following a powerful scrum.
That made the difference eight.
Taranaki threw plenty at Otago over the closing minutes, getting close to scoring after turning down penalty kicks at goal, but the hosts could not be denied.
An outstanding movement that swept the length of the field by Otago was only ruled out by a desperate Potroz tackle. But by then the result had been decided.
And so the magic and elusiveness of the Shield remains. Taranaki headed into the match as TAB favourites, unlike its last Shield triumph two years ago.
There is, however, one flicker of hope that accompanied the result. Otago's next defence is against Waikato. And should the Mooloo men succeed, Taranaki will receive the first challenge.
In the meantime, Taranaki's next match will take place this coming Saturday at 2.35pm at Yarrow Stadium against Bay of Plenty.
At a glance:
Otago 35 (tries: J Nareki 2, A Morris-Lomé, V Koroi. V Koroi: three conversions, three penalties: V Koroi) Yarrows Taranaki Bulls 27 (tries:M Brown, S Perofeta, T Walden, D Waite: three conversions, two penalties).