By Aiden McLaughlin
A Ranfurly Shield defence, but not as we know it. With the usual advantage of a home crowd hugely reduced due to Covid-19 Level 2 restrictions, Bay of Plenty visited McLean Park to take on Hawke’s Bay this afternoon, with much more than the title of ‘The Bay’ and the MacRae Shelford Bay Cup on the line. Like all NPC matches this weekend, pockets of fans were allowed into the ground to attend; for the Magpies, it was season ticket holders and sponsors, carefully separated into designated sections via multiple entry points. No mixing but with the ability to unite via their vocal support. Visiting supporters wearing the blue and yellow hoops could be spotted, but they were few and far between.
Sunny, warm conditions greeted the players at the start and it was a game set up for running rugby. After the competition was interrupted at Levels 4 and 3, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the tackle bags haven’t been brought out since the sides returned to full training at Level 2, as the teams shared 6 first half tries between them. It was the boot of Hawke’s Bay first five Lincoln McClutchie that was making the difference, with his 3 conversions and 2 penalties seeing the Magpies head back to the sheds after 40 minutes with a 27-19 lead.
The ping pong scoring didn’t last in the early stage of the second half and we had to wait a relatively long time for the scorers to be troubled. After 58 minutes, Bay of Plenty replacement Otere Black, playing under advantage, executed a grubber kick in the Hawke’s Bay 22 and after a fumble in defence, it was Centre Sean Wainui who gathered to dot down under the posts; Black converted and suddenly the gap was down to a single point.
Four minutes later, McClutchie made no mistake from in front of the posts to score his third penalty and extend the lead back out to 4 points, but with less than 20 minutes to go, it was anyone’s game to grab by the scruff of the neck.
Bay of Plenty were awarded two consecutive penalties in front of the Hawke’s Bay posts after 66 minutes and rather than take a certain 3 points, they chose a scrum instead, followed by a quick tap; they couldn’t managed the try that would have given them the lead, as replacement Penitoa Finau was held up over the line and the goal-line drop out went to the Magpies.
With 9 minutes to go, Bay of Plenty were awarded a penalty on halfway; Black drilled the ball down the touchline and provided his team with a lineout 10 metres out but after a maul, Hawke’s Bay were again able to win possession and clear their lines from the resultant scrum.
After 76 minutes they took their chance; left winger Onsi Ratave took an offload on the Hawke’s Bay 10 metre line and after breaking a tackle, ran unchallenged to go under the posts; with Black’s conversion, the Steamers led 33-30 with 2 minutes to go.
The drama wasn’t over though. In the final minute, Hawke’s Bay won a penalty about 40 metres out and up stepped replacement Tiaan Falcon. Cool as you like he slotted it to force extra time with the Shield still very much on the line.
With Golden Point in play, early possession was crucial and it was Hawke’s Bay who managed to make inroads. A penalty for offside was awarded from close range and after advantage was lost, it was again Falcon who stepped up to score, win the match and retain the Shield. It was a finish that deserved a full house.
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