As a warm-up for their Ranfurly Shield challenge next weekend, this was not a good one for Hawkes Bay.
The Magpies will be disappointed with this 24-20 defeat to their rivals Bay of Plenty at Tauranga's Baypark Stadium, but if it helps to concentrate minds ahead of next Sunday's Shield match against Otago in Dunedin it might be a worthwhile exercise.
The second-half sinbinning of their wing Zac Guildford was the turning point. They were up 13-8 at that stage and looking relatively comfortable, until Guildford was shown a yellow card for a professional foul when going offside at a ruck when his team was under big pressure.
The Steamers scored 13 points while he was off the field, with Willie Ripia going under the posts for a converted try and scoring two penalties for good measure. To rub the salt in, Ripia scored another penalty as soon as Guildford re-joined the fray.
However, the match was set up for an exciting finish when replacement halfback Chris Eaton scooted away on a break which led to a try for promising first-five Ihaia West.
However, despite the presence of quick men Guildford, fullback Gillies Kaka and wing Telusa Veainu, Hawkes Bay failed to score again, although they went close on fulltime. It meant the Steamers earned the right to be called the ``Bay'' for another year after last winning this fixture in 2010.
The second half turnaround was a big one given Hawkes Bay's big advantage in possession and territory in the first half despite playing against the wind. Bay of Plenty only made it into the opposition 22m area in the final five minutes of the half and Hawkes Bay could have been further ahead at the break, with hooker Ged Robinson and flanker Brendon O'Connor both going close. A fine piece of finishing by Veainu and a penalty from West was all the Magpies had to show for their dominance.
That failure to convert their advantage cost them in the end. Bay of Plenty struck back after the break with a try through Joe Tupe and Guildford's sinbinning was something they took full advantage of.
Hawkes Bay stole a victory at the death at McLean Park last year but this time there was no coming back despite the Magpies laying siege to the Steamers' line in the final seconds.
Bay of Plenty 24 (Joe Tupe, Willie Ripia tries; Ripia con, 4 pens)
Hawkes Bay 20 (Telusa Veainu, Ihaia West tries; West 2 cons, 3 pens)
HT: 10-3 Hawkes Bay
Villain: Zac Guildford - sinbinned straight after dropping a high ball in his 22m. Earlier he was penalised for dropping the shoulder on to a player in an off-the-ball incident.
Hero: Willie Ripia - after a troubled couple of years Ripia appears to be thriving at the Steamers. Scored a crucial try under the posts and kicked four penalties for a good day at the office.
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