Oh, the pain, as the pressure in the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team's quest to secure a semifinal berth in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship intensifies.
A 53-10 loss to Premiership title-holders Canterbury in last night's third round clash at McLean Park, Napier, leaves the Magpies with four points from a possible 15.
It wasn't the start captain Ash Dixon and his troops wanted in game one of their Storm Week which will see them take on Wellington in the capital on Wednesday night before returning home to host Otago next Sunday.
It also wasn't the 29th birthday present Dixon would have asked for. He was forced from the field with what appeared a hip injury just before halftime. This was one of three new injuries for an already injury-ridden Magpies outfit.
In-form No 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u departed in the 24th minute with suspected rib damage and first five-eighth Ihaia West left the field with a facial injury with three minutes remaining.
"During the first half, we were pretty direct. But in the second half, we were poor a lot of the time, particularly on defence. We've got to go back to the drawing board," Dixon said.
Canterbury captain and No 8 Luke Whitelock congratulated the Magpies for the manner in which they put the visitors under pressure in the first half.
"At the start of the second half, we had a couple of big scrums which contributed to the momentum shift."
The Magpies produced their best start of the season with quality ball retention and deserved their 3-0 lead at the third minute courtesy of a handy penalty from West. There was better urgency, intent and accuracy from the Magpies on defence until the 10th minute, when Canterbury scored their first try.
First five-eighth Brett Cameron scampered over after a clever break from fullback George Bridge. Cameron added the extras.
Despite this setback, the Magpies were more accurate at set piece time than during their previous two encounters and head coach Craig Philpott would have been happy with the improved discipline as the Magpies were 3-0 up in the penalty count after 16 minutes. The hosts were also vastly improved under the high ball.
The Cantabs didn't receive their first penalty from Taranaki referee Cam Stone until the 20th minute. They received another a minute later, which Cameron slotted from 30 metres and the visitors led 10-3.
The Ranfurly Shield holders were beginning to assert their authority at the start of the second quarter, forcing the Magpies into handling errors.
However, when the Magpies were able to limit these errors and build phases, they applied quality pressure of their own and were rewarded with a try to loosie Hugh Renton, which West converted to tie up the game.
Canterbury led 13-10 at halftime following a 44m penalty from Cameron in the 38th minute. Despite this deficit, it was Hawke's Bay's best 40 minutes of the season.
Their set piece was sound, apart from one dominant Canterbury scrum. The hosts were more patient and direct on attack which allowed them to build phases.
The Magpies were dealt a major blow when centre Cardiff Vaega dropped the kickoff and
Canterbury winger Marshall Suckling scored four phases later. Cameron was again on target with the conversion and Canterbury led 20-10.
Suckling scored his second try 10 minutes later when he collected a clever cross kick from Cameron, who added the extras.
It was then the turn of Canterbury left winger and world champion Baby Black Brayden Ennor to score two tries, which he did in the 63rd and 65th minutes. By this stage, the Magpies were beginning to make too many errors on first phase plays.
Further Canterbury tries to substitute backs Josh McKay and Inga Finau again exposed the Magpies' feeble defence and emphasised how much work the hosts need to do if they are going to tick off their 2017 goal of returning to the Premiership.
Top marks for the improvement displayed in the first half but the second half was dismal, simple as that.
At the same time, Hawke's Bay rugby fans were again treated to some spectacular play from the Cantabs, who again highlighted the tremendous depth of talent in the home of the Super Rugby championship-winning Crusaders.
To produce a performance like that in the absence of numerous All Blacks and other first stringers is an indication of how keen they are to hang on to the Ranfurly Shield and Premiership title.
Hawke's Bay-raised former All Black lock Dominic Bird was among Canterbury's late withdrawals with illness.
■ Heartstopper: The 67th-minute dangerous tackle from Canterbury substitute hooker Nick Werahiko on Magpies substitute lock Nick Palmer. Werahiko deserved his yellow card and, fortunately, Palmer wasn't injured as the Magpies already had enough casualties by this stage.
■ Turning point: Canterbury's 41st-minute try to winger Marshall Suckling, which put the visitors ahead 20-10. The momentum was all the visitors from this point.
■ Player of the match: Canterbury first five-eighth Brett Cameron. The late replacement for Richie Mo'unga finished with 21 points, including seven successes from eight attempts at goal and superb game management considering his limited experience at this level.
■ Scorers: Canterbury 53 (Brett Cameron, Josh McKay, Inga Finau, Marshall Suckling 2, Brayden Ennor 2 tries; Cameron 2 pens, 5 cons; McKay con) Hawke's Bay Magpies 10 (Hugh Renton try; Ihaia West con, pen).