Hawke’s Bay have secured their third Mitre 10 Cup Championship title in nine years after cruising to a 36-24 victory over Northland in front of a home crowd at McLean Park in Napier.
Led by their inspirational skipper Ash Dixon, the Magpies ran in six tries in entertaining fashion, with the 32-year-old hooker bagging one himself.
It didn’t come through his trademark method of dotting down off the back of a rolling maul, but rather in a way that was just as simple as he capped off an effective display of distribution from a Folau Fakatava turnover to stroll in for an easy try.
That was reflective of Hawke’s Bay’s attacking nature throughout the contest, although the 12-point buffer at the end of the match wasn’t a given considering Northland headed into the sheds at half-time on level terms at 17-all.
A total of six tries were scored in the first half, with scores from Hurricanes wing Jonah Lowe, exciting midfielder Neria Fomai and experienced wing Lolagi Visinia cancelling out the Taniwha’s efforts that came through prop Lua Li, backup halfback Will Grant – in for the injured Sam Nock – and fan favourite Tom Robinson.
The floodgates then blew open for the hosts, with Lowe doubling his personal tally early in the second stanza, before Fomai also nabbed a brace on the back of a good sniping run by Fakatava after he jarred the ball loose from Tamati Tua’s grip.
Tua managed to get one back on the Magpies later on in the match with a try of his own, but his 75th minute score was far too little too late against a side where all of their stars shone brightly on their biggest stage of the season.
Dixon, Fakatava, first-five Lincoln McClutchie and No. 8 Devon Flanders all flourished, as has been the case all season, with Fakatava, in particular, giving Highlanders fans much to be excited about ahead of next year’s Super Rugby campaign.
Hawke’s Bay’s Championship crown adds to the Ranfurly Shield success they enjoyed earlier in the year after they limited Otago’s Log o’ Wood reign to just a week before fighting off the challenges of Northland, Manawatu and Wellington to hold it for the summer.
Whether their title yields promotion into the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership remains to be seen, though, given the rumours swirling of a competition restructure in 2021.
That won’t dampen Hawke’s Bay’s celebrations, however, as they finish 2020 as the cream of the crop among New Zealand’s second-tier Mitre 10 Cup sides.
Hawke’s Bay 36 (Tries to Jonah Lowe (2), Neria Fomai (2), Lolagi Visinia and Ash Dixon; 2 conversions to Lincoln McClutchie, conversion to Caleb Makene)
Northland 24 (Tries to Lua Li, Will Grant, Tom Robinson and Tamati Tua; conversion to Dan Hawkins, conversion to Johnny Cooper)
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