TOP marks for honesty in the wake of the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team's debacle in Rotorua last night go to captain Ash Dixon.
"We were pretty soft and need to have a good look at ourselves. It was a tough game in which we were out muscled at the breakdown and turned over a lot of pill," Dixon said after the Magpies 46-17 loss to the Bay of Plenty Steamers in their Mitre 10 Cup Championship clash.
Dixon was spot on. His troops should never have allowed the Steamers to become the inaugural winners of the MacRae-Shelford Bay Cup in such convincing fashion.
The Magpies have made no secret of their intention to return to the Premiership next year. They won't do it if they keep playing like they did last night and in the previous week's 24-16 win against the Southland Stags.
A repeat of last night's performance when they take on the Premiership champions Canterbury at McLean Park on Friday night won't cut it. It could result in a 63-7 loss to the Cantabs like the Magpies experienced last year and then the pressure will intensify in the Magpies quest to secure a semifinal berth.
The Magpies had 10 first stringers unavailable last night and their display reflected that. But Dixon refused to use that as an excuse.
"It is what it is and you've got to get on with it each time," Dixon said.
Magpies head coach Craig Philpott is confident his team can bounce back against the Cantabs.
"We've got a tight group of men who want to do well in the black and white jersey. They will be hissing come Monday. We've got some work to do and with our Storm Week coming up that's a good way to get tighter," Philpott said, referring to the fact the Magpies have three games within 10 days with the Canterbury match followed by an away game against Wellington on September 6 and a home match against Otago on September 10.
Philpott said he was proud of the effort which went in early in the second half which had the Magpies trailing 20-10 after 47 minutes and starting to gain momentum.
However the Magpies, even with the below-strength team which took the field, were too good a side to be trailing 20-3 at halftime.
When quizzed if the visitors were guilty of going too wide too early in the first half when they should have been more direct, Philpott replied: "We didn't have enough ball and we conceded too many penalties. I thought the yellow card was a little bit tough too."
He was referring to prop Pouri Rakete-Stones ninth minute sin binning by Auckland referee James Doleman after taking a player out in the air for the second time during lineout play. Philpott agreed the Magpies have to work on their starts.
The Magpies were on the end of a 6-4 penalty count at halftime. The Steamers enjoyed 66 per cent of the territory during the first half and 51 per cent of the possession.
First five-eighth Ihaia West was again the best of the Magpies, although he would have been disappointed with his early missed penalty attempt at goal.
Busy No 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u was a powerful figure and deserved his 46th minute try.
At the same time he would have been angry for the turnover he conceded in the fourth minute when he dropped a pass he took from halfback Chris Eaton after a polished snipe.
West gave the Magpies some hope with his clever solo try in the 67th minute which he converted to have the visitors trailing 27-17.
However feeble defence and a lack of aggression at the breakdown from the Magpies allowed the Steamers to rule again during the final 10 minutes.
Two-game 2009 All Black, 35-year-old Mike Delany, was the player-of-the-match. His directional play for the Steamers was top shelf, he defended well and succeeded with six of his seven attempts at goal.
His midfield pair of second five-eighth Terrence Hepetema and centre Lalakai Foketi combined well.
Winger Monty Ioane, a nephew of Crusaders winger and former Wallaby Digby Ioane, was classy.
All of the Steamers forwards, including the substitutes, deserves praise for their cohesiveness and high physicality and urgency levels.
Former Taradale prop Siegfried Fisi'ihoi scored the first try of the game in the 11th minute.
Former All Blacks Sevens rep, Steamers winger Joe Webber, would have been surprised at the ease in which he scored both of his tries. Likewise Bay of Plenty's substitute loosie Jesse Parete.
The elation he displayed after his second try in the final minute summed up how desperate the hosts were to secure their first win of the season. It's time for the Magpies to display the same urgency and physicality levels particularly at the breakdown.
The 10 turnovers conceded by the Magpies in the second half were too many. Once they become more patient and direct that count should decrease.
Needless to say one or two of those 10 first stringers being available again would certainly help.
■ Heartstopper: The sinbinning of Magpies prop Pouri Rakete-Stones in the ninth minute after taking a player out in the air for a second time at the lineout. With 10 first stringers already unavailable for the game, the visitors didn't need this.
■ Turning point: When Steamers winger Joe Webber scored the first of his two tries in the 60th minute and Mike Delany converted to have the hosts ahead 27-10. That was too big a deficit for the Magpies to recover from.
■ Player of the match: Bay of Plenty first five-eighth Delany with top shelf directional play, six from seven attempts at goal and quality defensive work.
■ Scorers: Hawke's Bay Magpies 17 (Ihaia West, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u tries; West 2 cons, pen), Bay of Plenty Steamers 46 (Joe Webber 2, Jesse Parete 2, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Lalakai Foketi tries; Mike Delany 2 pens, 4 cons; Luke Campbell con). HT: BOP 20-3.