Brought to you by Whanganui Rugby
Player depth told for the Taranaki Māori Under 18s, who managed to hold off both Manawatū Māori U18 and Whanganui Māori U18 in the game-of-three halves at Spriggens Park on Saturday.
However, after blowing several try-scoring opportunities that would have seen them upset their neighbours to the north, Whanganui finished strongly with a 22-0 smashing of Manawatū in the third half at Spriggens Park.
With Covid Delta delays having closed the window for Te Tini A Maui senior Māori rugby in 2021, resources were diverted to giving the next generation of players an opportunity at the end of the season.
After an open call for two training sessions, the base of the Whanganui Māori lineup was members of the Air Chathams Whanganui U18 side that won the Trustbank Central Shield recently, also coached by Te Ahu Teki and Tony McBride.
However, as can be the casual fashion for Māori footy, a few other Whanganui players only appeared on the day, as they ended up with two reserves, while Manawatū had only one.
Taranaki, however, brought a full complement with a starting XV and seven players on the bench, which proved very important towards the end of the second half against Whanganui, because as the furthest travelling side, Taranaki played the opening two halves to get on the road home soonest.
Despite having a player sin-binned, Taranaki were too strong for Manawatū and ran out 10-0 winners.
Winger Quinn Coneybeer finished off a good attacking movement to get the ball down in the corner through two tackles, and then flanker Ben Minhinick scored the match-winner after a build-up of several phases following an attacking scrum.
But Whanganui, led by their NZ Māori U18 prop Konradd Newland, hit Taranaki hard straight from the get-go in the second half, as after a tap penalty near the tryline, fullback Jordan Leiasamairoa took the ball off the ruck to score.
The hosts then had a couple of chances to seal it as Newland drove over the line but couldn't hang onto the ball, while first five Anthony Sellers stepped through defenders near the posts, but when just held by the last man, threw a no-look flick pass to nobody.
Having given their bench players a chance to start the second half, Taranaki put some of their key men back on the field including halfback Topia Barrowcliffe and towering No 8 Peter Te Kahu, which proved crucial.
After Whanganui lost the ball midfield, they were caught out by Taranaki's rapid spreading of the ball from the scrum to put winger Maaka Normantou over in the corner, with Barrowcliffe stepping up as the third goal-kicker to nail the clutch conversion.
Late in the piece, Whanganui was penalised for an offside intercept and more territory for backchat, and from a quick tap on the 10m, Te Kahu steam-rolled his way over out wide.
The home side still had a chance for an equalising seven-pointer, but after good work through the pack, they dropped the ball with the try-line begging -Taranaki booting it out from the scrum win.
Rather than be discouraged, while knowing they had played most of their upcoming Manawatū opponents at schoolboy level, Whanganui came out firing for the third half to put themselves well clear before fatigue set in.
Getting the wind advantage, Whanganui regained the kickoff, and after working into position, second five Josh Brunger beat his marker and held off the cover tackler to dive over in the opening two minutes.
They followed up quickly as Sellers ran through a hole, and after the forwards were held up over the line, Brunger attacked again from the scrum win to charge under the posts, with Sellers converting.
Manawatū were trapped in their 22m and tried a grubber kick which Whanganui covered - soon sending the ball wide for Newland to make a perfect pop pass for Leiasamairoa to score again.
Whanganui absorbed a succession of attacking lineouts, scrums and penalties for Manawatū, eventually getting back into the attacking half.
When Manawatū spilled possession, Leiasamairoa got the ball wide for No 8 Tawhini Karatiana to shrug off the last defender and score in the corner.
As well as the try-scorers, other standouts for Whanganui on the day were hooker Narmie Marino and flanker Logan Kingi.
1st half: Taranaki 10 (Quinn Coneybeer, Ben Minhinick tries) bt Manawatu 0.
2nd half: Taranaki 12 (Maaka Normantou, Peter Te Kahu tries; Topia Barrowcliffe con) bt Whanganui 5 (Jordan Leiasamairoa try).
3rd half: Whanganui 22 (Josh Brunger 2, Jordan Leiasamairoa, Tawhini Karatiana tries; Anthony Sellers con) bt Manawatu 0.