The 117-year history of the Ranfurly Shield has never seen anything like it.
Hawke’s Bay have retained the Log o' Wood in a stunning 36-33 golden-point NPC win over Bay of Plenty in Napier on Sunday.
In scarcely believable scenes at McLean Park, the smattering of fans allowed in under level 2 restrictions probably had no idea if the prized piece of silverware was still on the line or not when Tiaan Falcon kicked the 84th minute penalty goal clincher from bang in front, after captain Ash Dixon deliberately knocked the ball on to make use of the advantage played by Paul Williams for offside.
Sideline officials were shown scrambling through the competition regulations as extra time – introduced for regular season matches just last year – got underway in this never-before-seen episode of Shield history.
Just minutes earlier, after the fulltime siren, replacement playmaker Falcon had knocked over a pressure-filled 40-metre attempt from in front to tie the scores at 33-33, after the Steamers were caught offside just when it looked like the Magpies were going to be pipped in what was their seventh defence of this tenure.
A stunning 77th minute try to winger Onisi Ratave – his second of the day – appeared to have clinched Bay of Plenty – who had injured All Blacks captain Sam Cane running the water – the Shield for the first time since 2004.
But, just like their last two cracks, which were also against the Magpies, in 2015 and 2014, they couldn’t taste that winning feeling, despite outscoring the home side five tries to three.
Instead, Hawke’s Bay reclaim the Macrae-Shelford Bay Cup, and the right to be called the ‘Real Bay’, while their Shield run will continue into next month.
Their next challenger is still to be confirmed, with New Zealand Rugby yet to release the revised draw past next weekend, but if the schedule continues to follow its original form, they will be putting it on the line against Tasman in three weeks’ time.
By then, perhaps heart rates may just have about lowered, following Sunday’s stunner.
It was a real see-sawing encounter in a first half which saw no fewer than six lead changes and some beautifully-worked tries on a sun-drenched turf.
Bay of Plenty opened the scoring in just the fourth minute, with a slick backline move seeing Emoni Narawa fly in in the right corner, and to make things even worse for the hosts, they also had No 8 Devan Flanders forced off and failing an HIA.
But it was tit-for-tat stuff, as each side swiftly struck back, before Hawke’s Bay first five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie then played a pivotal hand in the final 10 minutes of the half, as the hosts notched 13 unanswered points.
The Steamers were emphatically punished for a ball to ground in midfield, with a hack ahead seeing the Magpies charge onto attack and then McClutchie busting the line and offloading for quite the sight of prop Pouri Rakete-Stones cantering 20 metres under the bar.
Either side of that, the young No 10 slotted penalty goals, while his intercept on the stroke of halftime to snuff out a promising Bay of Plenty attack was also crucial, ensuring his side would turn into the wind with an eight-point buffer.
They would not cross the line again, though. After six tries in the game’s opening 30 minutes, it was half an hour before another five-pointer was seen, and it was courtesy of Otere Black – just injected from the bench – grubbering perfectly for Sean Wainui to finish, after Neria Fomai made a meal of the tidy-up.
McClutchie kicked his third penalty of the day to make the margin four points, and when Penitoa Finau quick-tapped a penalty and was held up over the line, conceding a goal-line dropout with a dozen minutes left, the momentum was with the holders.
And, a whole lot of grey hairs later, the game was theirs.
At a glance:
Hawke’s Bay 36 (Ash Dixon, Solomone Funaki, Pouri Rakete-Stones tries; Lincoln McClutchie 3 con, 3 pen, Tiaan Falcon 2 pen) Bay of Plenty 33 (Onisi Ratave 2, Emoni Narawa, Luke Campbell, Sean Wainui tries; Kaleb Trask 2 con, Otere Black 2 con). HT: 27-19.
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