Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby coach Craig Philpott was hunting for a kaumatua last night to lift the curse which continues to haunt his team.
The Magpies produced another woeful display when thrashed 64-21 by Otago in their fifth-round Mitre 10 Cup Championship clash at Napier's McLean Park yesterday. It's going to take more than a couple of karakia sessions to sort this rabble out and to make matters worse there were more injuries with winger Sam McNicol leaving the field with a rib injury and prop Mark Braidwood with a broken cheekbone.
"Ten of our 18 selected forwards are unavailable to play at the moment," Philpott said.
Among his key unavailable forwards are captain and hooker Ash Dixon and two other Super players in locks Michael Allardice and Geoff Cridge. This is obviously one of the reasons the Magpies struggled at set-piece time yesterday.
The Magpies lost all six of their own lineout throws and their scrum was dealt to on a regular basis in the final game of their Storm Week which saw them play and lose three games within 10 days and still have the one win on the points table to date, their first round fixture against Southland. Philpott also pointed out Otago had the luxury of having a week to prepare since their September 2 match against Manawatu.
"They were able to watch our game against Wellington on Wednesday night as part of that week while we had one training run with several new players. Some of those players we brought in aren't up to this level and they are aware of that."
When asked if yesterday's loss signalled the end of the Magpies quest to secure a semifinal berth Philpott replied:
"I'm not concerned about points tables at the moment. I'm just worried about controlling the things we can control and developing our players who are available to play so they can be more competitive at this level.
There were a couple of positive signs for the Magpies. One was the sharp form of McNicol until he received his injury in the final quarter.
Another was the enthusiasm, accurate goalkicking and solid defensive work Saracens first five-eighth Dan Snee provided when he replaced world champion Baby Blacks pivot Tiaan Falcon after 20 minutes.
Apart from those positives there was little else for Magpies fans to toast at the after-match function. Otago, captained by a Hastings Boys' High School product in hooker Sam Anderson-Heather, had plenty to celebrate.
Fullback and player-of-the-match Fletcher Smith finished the match with 34 points which bettered the previous record set by an Otago player in the fixture, 32 by Greg Cooper in 1991. Smith scored three tries and kicked eight conversions and a penalty from 10 attempts at goal.
It was a mighty feat considering Smith was a late replacement in the starting XV when Vilimoni Koroi withdrew with a suspected case of the mumps. Otago's 43-point winning margin beat their previous record of 39 which was set in 1989 when they won 60-21.
Otago's halfback and first five-eighth combo of Josh Renton and Josh Ioane functioned well with Ioane, who ran at will and distributed well, close behind Smith in the tussle for the best back on the paddock. However, Renton and Ioane had a cruisy ride behind their dominant forward pack.
Anderson-Heather pointed out after the final whistle improving their set-piece play was a work on for the week and he was happy with what was achieved. He had every right to be impressed with his troops start which saw them 31-0 up after Smith had scored the visitors' bonus-point try in the 26th minute.
"We worked on producing a good start because we have finished strong in our recent games," Anderson-Heather added.
For former Magpies halfback Jonathan Ruru, who took the field as a substitute for the visitors he couldn't have asked for a better performance in his blazer game for the Razorbacks. Otago fitness trainer Karl Bloxham, who was former Magpies fitness trainer Grant Dearns deputy for six seasons before returning to his home province in 2013 would have enjoyed the occasion, Otago's first victory against the Bay since he has been back in Dunedin.
■Heartstopper: When Magpies prop Pouri Rakete-Stones dropped the ball in the third minute. Magpies supporters hoped this wasn't an early sign of things to come ... unfortunately it was.
■Turning point: When Otago fullback Fletcher Smith scored Otago's bonus-point try and converted it in the 26th minute to have the visitors ahead 31-0. The Magpies were never going to recover from this deficit
■Player of the match: Smith with his record 34-point haul which included three tries and nine successes from 10 attempts at goal. First five-eighth Josh Ioane also impressed behind a dominant pack.
■Scorers: Otago 64 (Fletcher Smith 3, Josh Furno 2, Patelesio Tomkinson, Dillon Hunt, Sekonaia Pole, Aki Seiuli tries; Smith 8 cons, pen) Hawke's Bay 21 (Jonah Lowe, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Ellery Wilson tries; Dan Snee 3 cons). HT 31-7.