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Taranaki beat Otago to complete perfect NPC Championship title-winning season

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

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Taranaki have a perfect season en route to claiming the NPC Championship title with a 32-19 victory over Otago at TET Stadium in Inglewood.

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Heading into the final with nine wins from as many matches in a campaign severely disrupted by Covid-19, Taranaki ran in four tries to Otago’s three in a performance that underlined the home side’s credentials.

In doing so, the Bulls become the first team to finish an NPC season without defeat since Tasman achieved the same feat two years ago.

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However, with the three Auckland-based provinces – Auckland, North Harbour and Counties Manukau – withdrawn from the competition after two rounds due to the city’s ongoing lockdown, Taranaki won’t be promoted to the NPC Premiership next season.

That ruling from New Zealand Rugby drew the ire of Taranaki head coach Neil Barnes earlier this year, but he will have little to complain about from this match as his team’s superb goal line defence and lethal backline play put Otago guided them to their first title since 2014.

Taranaki’s free-flowing attack was on show early on when prop Jared Proffit capped off a sweeping move full of offloads to dot down in the corner inside the opening four minutes.

However, a charged down clearing kick from deep inside Taranaki territory shortly afterwards was capitalised on by Otago lock Josh Hill, who regathered possession and crashed over the line to level the score at 7-all.

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Taranaki midfielder Daniel Waite edged the hosts back into the lead midway through the first half, and their advantage was bolstered by a pair of Stephen Perofeta penalties as half-time approached.

The brilliance of one-test All Blacks first-five Josh Ioane got Otago back into the contest, though, as a scintillating burst through the defensive line and an audacious offload was enough to put wing Vilimoni Koroi in for a superb try in the 33rd minute.

That cut the deficit to just five points, but Taranaki lock Mickey Wooliams forced his way over the chalk to push his side out to a 10-point lead at the break.

It was virtually one-way traffic from there on out, as new Crusaders recruit Kini Naholo latched onto a chip kick from first-five Jayson Potroz to score the next try, which was complemented by a second Perofeta penalty.

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Not even a yellow card to Potroz for a deliberate knock down was enough for Otago to salvage the match, despite the dominance they showed in that 10-minute period, during which time Ioane scooted over for a try of his own.

That proved to be the last scoring act of the final as Taranaki closed the game out with a prolonged period of suffocating defence from their own try line to deny Otago any chance of a late comeback.

Taranaki 32 (Tries to Jared Proffit, Daniel Waite, Mickey Wooliams, Kini Naholo; 3 conversions and 2 penalties to Stephen Perofeta)

Otago 19 (Tries to Josh Hill, Vilimoni Koroi, Josh Ioane; 2 conversions to Ioane)

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