The Yarrows Taranaki Bulls are through to the finals after beating Canterbury 23-16. Photo / Alyssa Smith
Taranaki will play for the national provincial championship trophy on the weekend for the first time since their maiden title in 2014.
Two late penalty goals from former All Blacks utility Stephen Perofeta lifted the Bulls to a gutsy 23-16 victory over Canterbury at New Plymouth’s Yarrows Stadium in the first semifinal on Friday night.
In a tight struggle at the Bull Ring, Taranaki first-five Josh Jacomb and fullback Perofeta combined to boot six penalties, including four in the second half, to hold off the 14-time champions.
Taranaki captain Kaylum Boshier was “pretty stoked” with the results, which was Canterbury’s first loss in a playoff match and Taranaki’s semifinal victory against the red and blacks.
Advertise with NZME.
“A lot of people were writing us off,” he said. “Canterbury in finals footy they’re class above, and we’re thankful we were at home in front of our fans and got us over the line.”
Alex Harford, deputising at first-five for regular Fergus Burke who suffered an Achilles injury in last Friday’s quarter-final win over Auckland, kicked three penalties and a conversion for Canterbury.
After the teams took turns booting penalties in the first 10 minutes, halfback Adam Lennox scored Taranaki’s only try in the 14th minute for an 8-6 lead. Jacomb and Harford exchanged penalties as the home side went into the sheds up 11-9.
Jacomb capitalised on Canterbury’s ill-discipline early in the second half as Taranaki made most of the running, with three-pointers in the 43rd and 50th minutes putting the Bulls up eight.
Advertise with NZME.
Boshier said a strength was being able to convert opportunities off the tee when Taranaki made it down Canterbury’s half.
He pointed out the skill of Jacomb, who has shown great ability at this level.
“He’s playing with a lot of freedom and has taken over that 10 jersey really well.”
Not going way, Canterbury finally broke the Taranaki line and got back within a point when second-five Rameka Poihipi slid over in the 58th minute. After putting flanker Billy Harmon into a gap, Poihipi followed up, taking a sweet offload to cross the line in the clutches of several defenders.
Perofeta banged over a penalty from right in front in the 74th minute, and another from 45m out four minutes later to seal the victory.
Taranaki 23 (Adam Lennox try; Josh Jacomb 4 pen, Stephen Perofeta 2 pen) Canterbury 16 (Rameka Poihipi try; Alex Harford con, 3 pen).