Northland has secured its first win of the 2009 Air New Zealand Cup with a well-deserved 29-16 win over Taranaki at North Harbour Stadium on Thursday night.
The Taniwha collapsed in the second-half last week against Bay of Plenty, but powererd home in the second period against the 'Naki thanks to some inventive play from first five-eighth Lachie Munro, who ended up with 24 points, and some Taranaki indiscipline.
Both teams looked to play expansive rugby in what was an entertaining clash, but Northland always looked more dangerous - mainly thanks to winger Rene Ranger who was difficult to put down all night for the Taranaki defence.
And right from the opening whistle the fans were treated to two teams intent on playing rugby with the ball in hand.
Taranaki got on the front foot from the kick off and spread the ball wide hoping to catch the Taniwha napping, but a knock-on from a high up-and-under killed the move.
And Northland should have taken the lead in just the fifth minute after a period of great handing and recycling deep in Taranaki territory.
Munro found captain Jared Payne in the line and he ghosted past the Taranaki defence. But his pass to Tim Dow didn't quite go to hand and the big hooker knocked on with the line wide-open.
A second knock-on in almost the same position just a minute later again denied the Taniwha as they continued to put the visitors under the pump, but ultimately they left empty-handed.
Both teams then missed penalties in perfect conditions at North Harbour Stadium as the open, attacking rugby gave way to a brief territorial kicking contest.
The visitors finally opened the scoring mid-way through the opening period through first five-eighth Jack Cameron after Northland infringed at the breakdown and he quickly doubled the lead in almost identical circumstances.
Munro landed his first successful kick with 15 minutes to go in the opening period, and then tied it up from the other side of the paddock as the teams wrestled to take control of the game.
And it was advantage Taranki in the 30th minute with an excellent opening try.
The visitors recycled the ball in Taniwha territory and a brilliant side step from centre Willie Rickards created a hole in the home defence. He took the tackle and flipped a pass to the impressive Jayden Hayward on the cut and he dotted down. Cameron converted.
Northland pulled back three points from the kick-off as Taranaki became the latest team to fall foul of the increased focus from the referees on players being in front of the ball carrier, with Munro landing his third penalty.
And with the half-time oranges beckoning, another successful kick from Munro took the Taniwha back within a point, leaving the game in the balance.
Ranger kept up his strong performance at the start of the second half and his ability to break tackles almost opened the Taranaki defence for the Taniwha, but once again the hosts couldn't make the pressure count.
But they finally got the try their play deserved as the midway point in the second half approached.
Munro got the ball in the midfield and chipped over the Taranaki defence. It looked like the former Auckland pivot was obstructed by 'Naki captain Tony Penn as he tried to chase the kick, but a mistake by the defensive sweepers allowed Munro to contest.
Suggestions of a knock-on as he regathered were waved away by referee Vinny Munro and he dived over to put the Taniwha in front for the first time. He converted to give the home side a six-point lead.
Things then went from bad to worse for Taranaki when Munro landed his fifth penalty after an early tackle. That came just seconds after replacement Scott Waldrom was yellow-carded for a clothes-line tackle on Ranger as Northland put last week's horror second half against Bay of Plenty behind them.
Cameron brought Taranaki back within a single score with a penalty from out front as Northland's defence was just too eager to close down the visitors' attack but Northland made the game safe moments later through a try from second five Derek Carpenter.
The Taniwha secured their own lineout and replacement half-back Rhyan Caine found Munro on the crash. He got a great ball away to Carpenter who had too much strength for the Taranaki defence. Munro converted.
And to complete the turn-around from last week the Taniwha were brilliant on defence as the clock ticked down to deny the visitors a bonus point for finishing within seven points and they ran out the clock for the deserved victory.
Northland 29 (Try: Lachie Munro, Derek Carpenter; Con: Munro (2); Pens: Munro (5))
Taranaki 16 (Try: Jayden Hayward; Con: Jack Cameron; Pens: Cameron (3))
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