Captain Ngatai leads from front in Taranaki win
Charlie Ngatai led from the front for Taranaki as his class on the break resulted in two key tries in their 17-10 win over Counties Manukau at Yarrow Stadium on Wednesday.
The Taranaki captain and second five-eighths made light of the slippery conditions, as showers passed over the ground, to create havoc among the Counties Manukau defences at the right times. In the process he got the defending champions into the win column on the ITM Premiership ladder.
It wasn't the easiest of nights to play quality rugby and the first half proved a niggly affair.
But 44 minutes into the game, Taranaki finally strung a move together when Ngatai was able to break two tackles in midfield, one off a step and sped into space. When confronted, he slipped a ball to prop Angus Ta'avao who in turn fed centre Seta Tamanivalu and he was unstoppable.
It was a welcome relief for Ta'avao who moments before had been admonished by referee Nick Briant for problems he was creating at scrum time.
Then in the 60th minute it was Ngatai again who ran hard at the line to get through Counties Manukau forwards stationed in the defensive line, and as he slipped through he provided fullback Kurt Baker with the perfect pass to complement the superb line he ran to score a fine try.
Counties Manukau ensured the last 10 minutes held plenty of interest when, after securing a penalty in the Taranaki 22m area, they opted for a scrum. It was duly won and when blindside wing Tony Pulu took the ball at first five-eighths he got low and across the advantage line which made the pick-up and charge for the line and the try a formality for No.8 Ma'ama Vaipulu.
Piers Francis opened the Counties Manukau scoring with a penalty goal, at his second attempt of the night, but it was good reward for his securing the ball after a long Taranaki lineout throw wasn't taken. However, soon after, when attempting to field a rebound off a goal-post by Taranaki's Codey Rei, Francis collided with home prop Mitchell Graham and suffered a blow which saw him lost to concussion.
Both sides suffered from the slippery conditions with passes being either poorly directed or not held and it resulted in diminished scoring chances for the sides.
There was a niggly element throughout the first half and referee Briant battled to get the sides to take a positive approach. His patience was worn out when Vaipulu was sin-binned for not rolling away after the tackle. His offence provided Rei with his second goal-kicking chance and he made no mistake to draw level just before the half-time break.
Scorers: Taranaki 17 (Seta Tamanivalu, Kurt Baker tries; Codey Rei 2 con, pen) Counties Manukau 10 (Ma'ama Vaipulu try; Piers Francis pen; Jared Page con). HT: 3-3