NPC : Faoagali inspires Taranaki victory over Auckland
Huw Turner
August 17, 2002

Paul Tito's reign as Taranaki skipper started in sensational fashion at Eden Park on Saturday afternoon, his side getting up to beat Auckland 23-20 after a rousing second half comeback.

This was a game Taranaki should have sewn up in the first half and appeared have thrown away in the second , before an inspired substitution from Colin Cooper saw him pitch centre Mepi Faoagali into the fray with 10 minutes left. Showing strength, speed and skill he set up decisive tries for Bryce Robins and Chris Woods .

Auckland looked under prepared in the opening 40 minutes. The backs were disjointed , flat-footed and uninspired, the forwards outmuscled by the Taranaki eight. The latter consistently broke the gain line and Austin and Kerr on the wings looked tricky . However, a number of good scoring chances went begging as the Auckland defensive lines dug deep. In the opening quarter Lilley kicked two penalties for Taranaki and Arlidge kicked one for Auckland , although in the 20 minutes before half time he missed two others that looked sitters and which, in the end, were crucial. So Taranaki held a slender 6-3 half time lead, Auckland entitled to feel they had got off lightly.

In the third quarter Taranaki faded and Auckland upped the pace and appeared to have done enough to take the points. They frequently looked dangerous running from deep and David Gibson's arrival after 50 minutes because of an injury to Steve Devine speeded up delivery from the base of the scrum. Arlidge missed another penalty from a handy position before finally nailing one to level the scores. Gibson then took advantage of a disintegrating Taranaki scrum to beat Haami for the ball and the game's first try. The conversion and a second try from veteran Eroni Clarke, who ghosted through a tiring Taranaki defence , and Arlidge's conversion, took Auckland to a 20-6. With 12 minutes remaining, Auckland had apparently weathered the storm.

But on came Faoagali and in the space of 10 minutes he turned the game upside down. Down the left he made good ground and took advantage of some weak tackling, fed Bryce Robins and his cut back towards the posts wrong-footed the cover. Lilley's conversion brought the scores to within 4 points and fresh impetus to the Taranaki effort. From the kick off the Taranaki forwards mounted a fantastic rolling maul which took them to the Auckland 22, Faoagali stole down the blindside, somehow stayed on his feet and drove through desperate defenders before slipping a very clever pass to sub Chris Woods to dash over unopposed. Lilley converted and Taranaki held on.

This win opens things up for Taranaki and will encourage thoughts of another semi final placing to go with the efforts of 1999 & 2000. Their pack will compete with everybody and they have some slick backs. They will need to work on quicker ruck ball delivery and resisting the temptation to hammer away when spreading wide might bring better results. As many commentators had anticipated , the young Auckland side will need this season to mature and gain the experience necessary to make the most of their talents. Having said that, coaches Pivac , Fox and Graham Henry ( yes, he was much in evidence during the build-up and during the game ) will be bitterly disappointed with the fragility of much of their side's performance. They can expect another grueling work out next week when they visit Whangarei to play Northland.

Scorers :

Auckland : 20 Tries : Gibson, Clarke Conversions : Arlidge ( 2 ) Penalties : Arlidge ( 2 )

Taranaki : 23 Tries : Robins , Woods Conversions : Lilley ( 2 ) Penalties : Lilley ( 3 )

Teams :

Auckland : Sam Tuitupou, Mils Muliaina, Eroni Clarke, Lee Stensness, Iliesa Tanivula, James Arlidge, Steve Devine, Xavier Rush ( captain), Daniel Braid, Justin Collins, Bradley Mika, Ali Williams, Kees Meeuws, Keven Mealamu, Nick White.

Subs : James Christian , Scott Palmer, Angus MacDonald, Sione Lauaki, Tane Tuipulotu, , David Gibson.

Taranaki : Daryl Lilley, Shayne Austin, Bryce Robins, Matthew Harvey, James Kerr, Mark Urwin, Brendan Haami, Chris Masoe, Neil Crowley, Brent Thompson, Reece Robinson, Paul Tito ( captain ), Gordon Slater, Daniel Smith, Tony Penn.

Subs : Andrew Hore, Jason Hooper, Scott Breman, Corey Holdaway, Mepi Faoagali, Chris Woods, Denning Tyrell.

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