When the Mitre 10 Finals weekend clashes with the start of the international cricket season, you know things aren’t normal. A balmy evening in Napier saw the first match this evening, with the Magpies hosting Northland.
The regular season game between the two teams in McLean Park in mid-October, was also Hawke’s Bay’s first Ranfurly Shield defence and after a tight first half, with only penalties troubling the scorers to see Hawke’s Bay lead 9-3, the home team pulled away in the second half to end up 33-17 victors.
In contrast, tonight saw a flurry of tries in a seesawing first 40 minutes. It was the Taniwha who scored first. A poor decision to take a quick line out in his own 22 by fullback Kurt Baker, saw a sustained period of pressure on the Hawke’s Bay tryline which resulted in prop Lua Li’s fifth try of the season in the seventh minute; first five Dan Hawkins converting to make it 7-0.
Hawke’s Bay responded quickly however. A Stacey Ili kick in the Northland 22 saw Jonah Lowe pick up the ball on his left wing to go in for his third try of the season after 11 minutes. Lincoln McClutchie missed the conversation.
There wasn’t long to wait before Hawke’s Bay took the lead. Powerful openside Solomone Funaki Broke through in midfield and offloaded to Neria Fomai for his fourth try of the campaign. This time, McClutchie made no mistake with the kick, seeing the Magpies lead 12-7.
In the nineteenth minute, Northland halfback Will Grant went over from short range after good work by Rene Ranger. A missed conversion attempt by Hawkins saw the scores level at 12 all.
After 27 minutes , Northland went back ahead, blindside Tom Robinson sprinting down the left flank after good work just inside Hawke’s Bay territory, Northland taking back the advantage at 17-12.
The sixth try of a frantic first half came after 31 minutes via Lolagi Visinia down the right wing. With McClutchie receiving treatment, Fakatava missed the conversation, scores level again.
Four minutes into the second half, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u was able to offload to Jonah Lowe on the left hand side and with one player to beat and Fakatava in support, he threw a great dummy to go over for his second of the night. McClutchie slotted the conversion to make the lead 24-17
In the 51st minute, the ever impressive Fakatava broke from halfway and with Fomai in support, gave the pass seven metres out to see the Hawke’s Bay No 12 go over for his second of the night. McClutchie had now been replaced by Caleb Makene who converted to see the lead extended to 14.
By now, Hawke’s Bay were full of confidence and throwing the ball around in the style they’ve become known for. After 55 minutes, it seemed that captain Ash Dixon had scored his ninth try of the season after a flowing period of pressure to extend the lead further, but after a lengthy delay, it was ruled out by the officials for a knock-on. Dixon only had four minutes to wait for his score however, going over after a pass from Kurt Baker. Although Makene missed the extra two points, suddenly the lead was looking comfortable at 36-17 entering the last quarter.
After 66 minutes, the Magpies Player of the season, number eight Devan Flanders, was denied his sixth try of the season out on the left wing after a forward pass was correctly picked up by the officials.
With a nineteen point lead, the home fans were feeling comfortable, but Northland second five Tamati Tua was able to unexpectedly rip the ball from Visinia to score a try to get their nerves jangling a bit. Replacement Johnny Cooper converted and the lead was down to 12 with five minutes to go.
However, that was the last score of the night. In front of another healthy home crowd, Hawke’s Bay took home the spoils. An unbeaten home record in 2020, 7 wins out of 10 in the regular season, the Ranfurly Shield locked up for the summer. They might not be able to call themselves ‘The Bay’ following defeat to Bay of Plenty, but there’s always next year for that. The consistently best side in the Championship deserve their celebrations.
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