Rugby: 74th minute heartbreaker

By Shane Hurndell

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Magpies 29 Auckland 36

McLean Park, Napier

Top marks for the comeback Hawke's Bay Magpies but why was the comeback required?

The Magpies 36-29 loss in this ITM Cup Premiership opener at McLean Park, Napier, last night was a classic games of two halves. Auckland dominated the first and the Magpies most of the second.

Magpies coach Craig Philpott agreed his troops didn't hang on to the ball for long enough periods in the second half. Magpies captain and No 8 Mike Coman agreed the match was lost in the first 40 minutes.

"We let ourselves down early on but we fought back hard. We were a lot more physical in the second 40 and got into our work. But in saying that we ran out of juice during the last 20 minutes.

"We can't feel sorry for ourselves for too long. We've got Wellington on Tuesday and have to get back on the horse," Coman added.

Magpies wingers Zac Guildford and Tino Nemani proved why they are Super Rugby players with some classy work. Second five-eighth Andrew Horrell continued his superb Super Rugby and first five-eighth Dan Waenga did well with his goalkicking in the difficult conditions.

Auckland opened the scoring in the second minute with a penalty to first five-eighth Gareth Anscombe from 55m out on the angle. Three minuters later he landed a second from 45m out.

Anscombe missed a third attempt in the eighth minute from 52m out after Magpies and Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna was penalised for illegal binding.

The Magpies opened their account in the 14th minute with a penalty to first five-eighth Dan Waenga from a handy position.

All Black squad member and Auckland prop Charlie Faumuina scored the first try of the match after crashing through some feeble defence in the 20th minute. Anscombe converted to give the visitors a 13-3 lead.

Waenga landed his second penalty from 39m out in the 21st minute. His third had the hosts trailing 13-9 after 28 minutes.

Another Anscombe penalty in the 30th nminute had the Auks leading 16-9. Three minutes later some sluggish chasing from Magpies fullback Gillies Kaka allowed Auckland and Blues winger Ben Lam to score after he beat Kaka to his kick ahead.

Anscombe added the conversion and a 37th minute penalty to put the visitors ahead 26-9 at the interval. Waenga had the opportunity to close the gap in the 38th minute but a relatively easy penalty attempt was flagged away.

A lack of urgency in most aspects of play, particularly on defence and at breakdown time proved to be the Magpies downfall in the first half.

These issues were obviously addressed at halftime as the Magpies started the second spell strong with a 41st-minute try to second five-eighth and Chiefs utility back Andrew Horrell. It followed a turnovers forced by the Magpies forwards and Horrell hitting the line at pace on to a well-timed pass from Waenga who succeeded with the conversion.

A Waenga penalty in the 45th minute had the hosts trailing 26-19. Three minutes later Anscombe missed a penalty attempt and this proved inspirational for the Bay.

Magpies centre Star Timu closed the gap with a 52nd-minute try which Waenga converted to tie the score at 26-all. The try followed some clever bustling defensive work from Nemani and a quick lineout throw from openside flanker Karl Lowe.

A 58th-minute penalty from Waenga put the Magpies ahead for the first time in the match. However, another Anscombe penalty in the 60th minute saw the score tied again.

Anscombe missed a penalty attempt from 51m out in the 68th minute and there was still hope for the hosts.

However, Hastings Boys' High School product and former All Black halfback Alby Mathewson scored what proved to be the match-winning try for the visitors in the 74th minute after another powerful burst from Lam. Anscombe converted.

With time almost up Hawke's Bay had a final opportunity to mount a late comeback from set-piece play but a lineout throw from subsitute hooker Hika Elliot, who provided some much neeed oomph off the bench, missed its target.

Auckland second five-eighth Hadleigh Parkes agreed his team was "very lucky" to be travelling home with four competition points in the wake of the Magpies gutsy comeback. Faumuina, lock Liaki Moli, blindside flanker Steven Luatua and captain and openside flanker Daniel Braid were all inspirational in the Auckland pack.

With eight successes from 11 attempts at goal and a 21-point haul Anscombe proved he is well on his way back to his best after an injury ridden Super Rugby campaign.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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