The Ranfurly Shield is returning to Taranaki for the first time in two years.
In a result that replicates the 55-43 Shield victory over Canterbury in 2017, the men in amber and black returned to Christchurch to snatch the Log O’ Wood back off the provincial juggernauts in exhilarating fashion.
Both team’s playmaker’s, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, stole the headlines leading into this clash, but it was the boot of Barrett’s younger brother Jordie, playing against his former side, that won the match late on in the piece.
It was Jordie who opened the scoring inside the first few minutes, as he slotted a penalty that stemmed from an infringement by Josh McKay, who is still on the search for a Super Rugby contract after his three-year deal with the Highlanders recently expired.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to extend their lead, as in-form flanker Lachlan Boshier continued to put his hand up for a place in the All Blacks by slipping through a tackle to put Canterbury on the back foot.
His pass found the boot of young wing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, and the All Blacks Sevens teenager had enough composure to toe the ball ahead and score his first try at Mitre 10 Cup level.
Things went from bad to worse for Canterbury, as Barrett scooped up a Richie Mo’unga knock on to canter into the opposition 22 before slinging away an offload to All Blacks newbie Tupou Vaa’i, who scored his third try in under a week.
Down 13-0 inside the opening 10 minutes, the hosts needed to be the next team to strike, and they did so through the boot of Mo’unga from right out in front of the posts.
That counted for little, though, as the ball-running brilliance of Beauden Barrett edged Taranaki further in front.
Slicing the Canterbury defence in broken play, the 83-test All Blacks playmaker gassed prop Oli Jager and lock Luke Romano to eat up about 30 metres before firing a pass away to Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, who had enough about him to round Mo’unga and run in under the bar for his second try.
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Canterbury's @richiemounga has the bragging rights after helping the South to an upset win over the North last month. That won't count for much if Barrett's Taranaki successfully snatch the Ranfurly Shield this weekend. #rugby #rugbygram #superrugby #superrugbyaotearoa #northvsouth #allblacks #nzrugby #canterburyrugby #taranakirugby #ranfurlyshield
Desperate to cut into the 17-point deficit before half-time, Canterbury twice squandered good field position handed to them thanks to a multitude of penalties conceded by Taranaki.
Joe Moody was unable to get the better of his opposite Ben May from a scrum five metres from the opposition tryline, but a line break by Manasa Mataele looked to have made amends for his teammate’s error.
However, the forgotten Crusaders wing inexplicably coughed the ball up with the tryline begging, which was enough for Taranaki to head into the sheds with a 20-3 advantage.
It must have been a stern half-time team talk by co-head coach Reuben Thorne, as the hosts came out firing in the second half to put Taranaki under the pump right from the re-start.
The relentless start to the half paid dividends for Canterbury, with Jager crashing over from short range following a flurry of pick-and-gos to chew into the challengers’ lead.
An unsuccessful Jordie Barrett penalty let an opportunity to somewhat cancel Jager’s try out go begging, and Canterbury made sure they capitalised on the Hurricanes star’s let-off.
Having been overshadowed by Beauden Barrett’s playmaking skills in the lead-up to Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens’ second try, Mo’unga hit back with an easily-taken try from an attacking five metre scrum that came after a series of patient build-up play by the hosts.
Receiving a precise pass from Mitchell Drummond, the All Blacks star seared through the gaping Taranaki defensive line before converting his own try to make it a five-point game.
That began to swing the momentum in Canterbury’s favour, with a thumping hit on Beauden Barrett by young midfielder Isaiah Punivai evident of the home side’s desire to retain the Shield.
That changing of the guard eventually reaped the rewards that the Cantabrians were searching for.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 19, 2020
A slew of Taranaki penalties again let Canterbury back deep into their half, and a looping Drummond pass allowing All Blacks Sevens playmaker Andrew Knewstubb to score his maiden Mitre 10 Cup try.
Adopting a never say die attitude, Taranaki came back hard at the Shield holders after falling behind, and, in a moment of irony, it was a Canterbury penalty that gifted Jordie Barrett a golden chance to put the visitors back in front.
Lining the posts up from almost 50 metres out, Barrett made no mistake to hand his side a one-point advantage with little more than five minutes to play.
Lucky not to be a man down after an off-the-ball shoulder charge by Mitchell Dunshea was overlooked by the officials, Canterbury made one last burst for the line as the clock ticked closer and closer to expiration.
However, a sublime piece of defensive work at the breakdown by Boshier saw the ball pinched back onto the Taranaki side of the ruck.
With about 90 seconds left to play, that was all the visitors needed to win the Ranfurly Shield, and Beauden Barrett had the honour of booting the ball out of play to inspire scenes of jubilation upon the full-time whistle.
Taranaki 23 (Tries to Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (2), Tupou Vaa’i; conversion and 2 penalties to Jordie Barrett)
Canterbury 22 (Tries to Oli Jager, Richie Mo’unga and Andrew Knewstubb; conversion and penalty to Mo’unga)
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