Final Score: Magpies 29 Taranaki 26
Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby hooker Ash Dixon had an hour's sleep the night before their thrilling ITM Cup rugby win against Taranaki at Napier's McLean Park last night.
No ... the Hurricanes and New Zealand Maori representative wasn't out partying. Dixon's wife Mikayla introduced their first son, Boston, to the world at 2.46pm on Thursday, a fortnight early. He is a brother for Paiyton, who is almost three.
"I stayed up at the hospital. It was incredible ... along with our wedding and Paiyton's birth one of the big highlights in my life. I'll shower up now and go back to the hospital and stay with them for the next few nights," Dixon explained after his player-of-the-match performance.
"I'm pretty knackered now but it has all been worth it. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time ... it was an ugly win but I'm just happy to see the boys gain some confidence," the vice-captain added.
Taranaki led 13-10 after 20 minutes. Winger Seta Tamanivalu scored the first try in the fifth minute after good build-up work from captain and second five-eighth James Marshall. Fullback Cody Rei converted.
Magpies first five-eighth Ihaia West opened the hosts account with a ninth minute penalty. Three minutes later Dixon made a clever break and sent fullback Ryan Tongia away for a try which West converted. Penalties from Rei in the 18th and 20th minutes gave the Naki the edge.
Rei's third consecutive penalty in the 27th minute extended the visitors lead. A handy West penalty in the 30th minute had the Magpies trailing 16-13.
The entertaining topsy-turvy nature of the half continued when winger Richard Buckman scored a 35th minute try off a pinpoint kick from West to the corner to give the Magpies the lead. West missed the conversion attempt from out wide, but redeemed himself with a 53 metre penalty to give his team a 21-16 halftime lead.
In sharp contrast the second half resembled a game of chess. A 45th-minute penalty from Rei provided the only points until the 66th minute when Dixon capitalised on a turnover and sparked a counter attack which led to Tongia's second try.
With five minutes remaining Taranaki equalised when first five-eighth Marty McKenzie scored and converted a try. But West had the final say with his 82nd minute dropped goal.
West - who succeeded with four of his seven attempts at goal - Buckman, Tongia and second five-eighth Andrew Horrell were all close behind Dixon for player-of-the-match honours. The entire squad deserves praise for their character and heart on defence - a huge improvement on last week's 35-15 loss to Tasman.
Prop Jason Marshall did some outstanding work at maul time and was prominent as the Magpies scrum improved in the second half. Busy No.8 Gareth Evans was powerful off the back of the scrum and captain and openside flanker Brendon O'Connor was again tireless on defence.
"It was a bit messy at times, but both teams played some good rugby," O'Connor said.
Last night's match was the first time in 40 first class games Taranaki had fielded the same starting XV in consecutive matches. That consistency was almost rewarded.
Lock James Broadhurst was a workhorse in the Naki engine room where prop Mitchell Graham and No 8 Blade Thomson also impressed.
Marshall was the pick of the Taranaki backs.
He said he was happy with how the Naki scrum started the game. It was surprising to see Rei subbed so early in the second half considering how his goalkicking went. He finished with the same stats as West.
Tasman referee Mike Lash can be proud of his display on his 27th birthday.
The unbeaten Lindisfarne College 2nd XV recorded their 13th consecutive win for the season in the curtain-raiser with a 26-16 victory against defending champions Central Hawke's Bay College in the Hawke's Bay Secondary Schools Unison Challenge final. Both teams defended well during a scoreless second half.