A brilliant Ihaia West solo try completed a shock Hawkes Bay victory over Wellington in Napier.
Previously unbeaten Wellington had already nailed top spot in the ITM Cup premiership going into their final match. But heavy underdogs Hawkes Bay needed a win to push for a home semifinal in the championship division and their 35 - 24 victory has left them hoping that Auckland will beat Otago in their final encounter in Dunedin.
Hawkes Bay threw the early grenades, hung on with courageous defence in the tough times, and finally won the war in a stirring match of individual brilliance and crunching confrontations. West was already one of the stars before his long range try, with clever running and excellent goalkicking. Prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen put in a rampaging display in a Wellington side which held an advantage in the tight battles. But the Hawkes Bay loose forwards threw themselves into defence to compensate as the game turned into one of the best of the ITM Cup season.
Hawkes Bay shocked Wellington in the opening stanza, flooding through their defence, riding some luck and hitting a 17 - 0 lead by the 18th minute.
Both of their tries in this period had major question marks over them. Zac Guildford scored the first, powering through the tackle of lock Kaipati Gaualofa, but the chance was set up by an awful touch judge decision against Wellington. The second try, finished by Telusa Veainu, involved a short but clear forward pass which the video referee overlooked.
That aside, Hawkes Bay were worth their lead via a physical approach that rocked the runaway leaders of the premiership.The inter-house Hurricanes battle perhaps helped in firing the Magpies up. Wellington's scoring chances were rare, but they took them. Scrum power set up the first try and their forwards rumbled through Hawkes Bay for the second, finished by lock Mark Reddish.
Hawkes Bay 35 (Zac Guildford, Telusa Veainu, Adam Bradey, Ihaia West tries; Ihaia West 3 con, 3 pen), Wellington 24 (Victor Vito, Mark Reddish, Afa Fa'atau tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, pen). Halftime: Hawkes Bay 23 - 14.