Hawke’s Bay are one game closer to keeping the Ranfurly Shield locked away in Napier over the summer.
In their penultimate home fixture of the season, the Magpies turned away the challenge of the Manawatu Turbos, running out convincing 47-12 winners.
Despite the eventual result, inside the opening quarter of the game it looked on track to be anything but a high-scoring affair, as neither side could establish any sort of ascendency.
While both sides showed attacking intent early, their execution was lacking – each giving the other plenty of chances.
It was the visitors who cracked the line first, with second five-eighth James Tofa crossing out wide after 18 minutes of play. The try might have presented a little hope to the struggling Turbos, who haven’t held the Shield since 1978, however that was soon stamped out by the hosts.
A try to Hawke’s Bay second five-eighth Danny Toala five minutes later triggered a forgettable period for the Turbos, who conceded a further three tries in the half. They were able to score another themselves, but faced a 28-12 deficit at the break.
In similar fashion to the first 40 minutes, neither team’s play was overly flattering, with handling errors and poor discipline meant there was little flow to the play, though Hawke’s Bay were getting the better of the exchanges when they could keep the ball in their hands.
The Magpies finally cracked the line again with 13 minutes to play when hooker Ash Dixon predictably crossed from the back of a lineout drive, and squeezed in two more tries in the final seven minutes to push the score line to a flattering 35-point buffer.
Hawke’s Bay will face their final challenge of the season in two weeks when Wellington come to town, with the Lions getting just their second challenge since losing the Shield in 2009. The other one was also against Hawke’s Bay, a 36-14 loss in 2014.
Earlier in the day, Canterbury were trounced by Bay of Plenty in an uncharacteristically poor performance, going down 44-8. It was Bay of Plenty’s first win over Canterbury since 2011 and lifted them from the foot of the Premiership ladder and into an outside chance at a spot in the playoffs.
For Canterbury, they’re now at risk of missing the playoffs as they slip to fifth and face Premiership frontrunners Tasman and Auckland in two of their final three games.
A second half comeback from North Harbour stunned Auckland in the Battle of the Bridge, edging their cross-town rivals 23-22.
In a match between the top and bottom teams of the Premiership, league leaders Auckland charged ahead to a 15-9 halftime lead, with the boot of Bryn Gatland keeping Harbour within reach. They took the lead soon after through a converted try, and extended it to eight points with 16 minutes to play.
Auckland hit back inside the final five minutes but Harbour were able to hold on in the dying stages.
Hawke’s Bay 47 (Danny Toala, Devan Flanders, Ben Makene, Brendon O’Connor, Ash Dixon, Neria Formai, Isaia Walker-Leawere tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 cons, Connor McLeod 2 cons) Manawat? 12 (James Tofa, Ben Wyness tries; Wyness con) HT: 28-12.
Bay of Plenty 44 (Chase Tiatia 2, penalty try, Joe Webber, Kaleb Trask, Scott Curry tries; Trask 3 con, 2 pen) Canterbury 8 (Cullen Grace try; Fergus Burke pen) HT: 22-3.
North Harbour 23 (James Little, Luteru Tolai tries; Bryn Gatland 2 cons, 3 pens) Auckland 22 (AJ Lam, Tumua Manu, Akira Ioane tries; Harry Plummer 2 cons, pen) HT: 9-15
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