By Paul Cully [Stuff]
Hawke's Bay have held on to the Ranfurly Shield after withstanding a physical challenge from Tasman to secure a 34-22 win in Napier on Saturday.
The Magpies scored five tries to one highlighting their superiority with ball in hand as the No 9-No 10 combination of Ereatara Enari and Lincoln McClutchie pulled the strings nicely and No 6 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u proved a constant threat with his pace and size.
KERRY MARSHALL/GETTY IMAGES
Neria Fomai of Hawke's Bay and Timoci Tavatavanawai of Tasman contest a high ball during the Ranfurly Shield at McLean Park in Napier on Saturday.
Mark Ozich's side also showed their defensive grit when needed, winning a couple of crucial ruck penalties in the shadows of their own posts.
The 12-point gap reflected the Mako's determination to win the Shield at the third time of asking, but there was little doubt that the Magpies were deserved winners, and they shocked the visitors with a three-try blitz at the start of the game.
After Tasman had closed the gap to 24-22 at the start of the second half, Samoan wing Neria Fomai also scored a crucial try for the Magpies in the 56th minute, giving the home side renewed momentum just as Tasman had clawed their way back into the game.
For the Magpies, Devan Flanders and fullback Lolagi Visinia were also standouts, while their replacements added some real impact in the second half.
KERRY MARSHALL/GETTY IMAGES
Shannon Frizell scores against Hawke’s Bay on Saturday.
Pari Pari Parkinson – in another 80-minute shift – and wing Timoci Tavatavanawai were huge for the visitors, although they might rue the fact that they couldn’t really work blockbusting wing Leicester Fainga’anuku in to the game.
In front of a restricted crowd at McLean Park in Napier, halfback Enari scored a brilliant try after just four minutes.
No 8 Flanders started it with a clean turnover at the ruck, before Mikaele-Tu’u was twice involved in a 80m counter-attack that was finished by Enari.
In fine conditions, the home side continued their razor-sharp start when flanker Brendon O’Connor and fullback Visinia each added tries to give Hawke's Bay a 17-3 lead after 17 minutes.
To add to Tasman’s early woes, co-captain Quinten Strange left the field with a shoulder injury after heavy contact with Magpies prop Pouri Rakete-Stones.
In his absence, Parkinson stepped up at lineout time and No 10 Mitch Hunt kept the scoreboard ticking over with four first-half penalties.
The sides also traded tries through Magpies No 13 Stacey Ili and Tasman's All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell, who grew into the game after Flanders and Mikaele-Tu’u dominated the early proceedings.
McClutchie – rumoured to be a target for Moana Pasifika – also had a good first 40 minutes, while Mako wing Tavatavanawai was superb under the high ball in an outstanding all-round performance in the No 14 jersey.
One potential concern for the Magpies was the sight of inspirational captain Ash Dixon icing up a shoulder after being replaced in hte second half.
Dixon – one of the toughest players in the country – spent a few minutes on the ground after being hit in what looked like a no-arms tackle by Mako prop Isi Tuungafasi.
However, the sweet taste of victory will help Dixon recover for the rest of the season, as the Magpies chase some more silverware after winning the Championship last year.
Hawke's Bay 34 (Ereatara Enari, Brendon O’Connor, Lolagi Visinia, Stacey Ili, Neria Fomai tries, Lincoln McClutchie 3 cons, Tiaan Falcon pen) v Tasman 22 (Shannon Frizell tries, Mitch Hunt con, 5 pen). HT: 24-19