Magpies 24 Stags 16
Outstanding scrambling defence and superb character under pressure in the second half saw the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team open their Mitre 10 Cup Championship campaign with a 24-16 win against the Southland Stags at Napier's McLean Park today.
The Stags opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a handy penalty from first five-eighth Scott Eade. The Magpies had good patches of momentum in the first quarter but soft turnovers let them down.
Another Eade penalty in the 25th minute had the Stags ahead 6-0. First five-eighth Ihaia West opened the Magpies account with a 27th minute penalty from 42 metres out.
Southland had 80 per cent of the possession in the firstr half and it was a tribute to the Magpies defensive systems the Stags were unable to score a try until the 38th minute.
Seconds five-eighth Matt Johnson scored after another period of relentless pressure from the Stags forwards and Eade converted to have the visitors ahead 13-3 at halftime.
An accurate kicking game from the Stags was instrumental in this lead. Halfback Jay Renton, Eade and former Magpies winger Ryan Tongia all knew where to put the ball with the boot.
The Magpies outside backs struggled under the high ball. Injuries also took their toll on the hosts with winger Mason Emerson forced off with a leg injury in the 11th minute, flanker Tony Lamborn with an arm injury in the 25th minute and No 8 Gareth Evans with a thigh injury in the 35th minute.
The Magpies were also on the wrong end of a 6-2 penalty count at halftime.
Hawke's Bay's 2016 club rugby MVP Neria Fomai started at centre for the Stags. He was forced from the field in the seventh minute with what appeared to be a concussion issue.
The Magpies opened the scoring in the second half with a spectacular try to winger TJ Vaega. It followed an outstanding burst from his brother and former Stags centre Cardiff Vaega and quality support from fullback Tiaan Falcon. West added the conversion.
Another Eade penalty in the 53rd minute had the Stags ahead 16-10. The Magpies took the lead for the first time in the 57th minute when Falcon won the chase to a clever kick ahead from TJ Vaega and West again added the extras.
Superb recycling play from the Magpies resulted in loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u scoring in the 68th minute. West converted and the Magpies led 24-16.
This try was scored while lock-flanker Geoff Cridge was in the sinbin. West was the Magpies player-of-the-match but only just ahead of veteran halfback Chris Eaton .
Former All Black Elliot Dixon was a workaholic at No 8 for the Stags. Props Joseph Walsh and Guy Millar also impressed during the first half.
Hawke's Bay Magpies 24 (TJ Vaega, Tiaan Falcon, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u tries; Ihaia West pen, 3 cons), Southland Stags 16 (Matthew Johnson try; Scott Eade 3 pens, con). HT: Southland 13-3.