Hands up if you're fed up with Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby players talking about producing 80-minute performances and failing to produce them.

You're not alone. Yesterday's sixth round Mitre 10 Cup crossover match against the Counties-Manukau Steelers in Pukekohe, which the Magpies lost 33-14 after the score was 7-all at halftime, was the ideal opportunity for the Magpies to deliver one.

They had key players in captain and hooker Ash Dixon, blindside flanker Tony Lamborn, lock Geoff Cridge, winger Mason Emerson and fullback/first five-eighth Ihaia West back from injury spells. The Steelers, who like the Magpies, went into the game with one win from five games, were playing their third match in 11 days.

With the score tied at the end of the first spell and the Magpies' defensive systems vastly improved on previous games this season, Magpies fans had every right to be reasonably confident of a win. But that confidence was dealt a major blow when pivot Tiaan Falcon dropped a pass after a powerful carry from Lamborn in the 41st minute and the Steelers scored three phases later.


"It was almost identical to the Canterbury game. Those basic errors are becoming very frustrating and it caused a momentum shift for them," Magpies head coach Craig Philpott recalled afterwards.

He was comparing Falcon's blunder with midfield back Cardiff Vaega's dropped kick off at the start of the second half of the September 1 53-10 loss to Canterbury in Napier after the Magpies trailed 13-10 at halftime.

Dixon made a memorable return from his hip injury collected against Canterbury. His 24th minute try followed a quality period of ball retention from the Magpies, who like the Steelers, were guilty of making too many handling errors through the match.

There were fears Dixon may have aggravated the hip injury before he was subbed in the second half but Philpott pointed out Dixon, like several of his teammates, had been nagged by the flu last week. Substitute halfback Ellery Wilson's dislocated shoulder was the only new major injury concern last night.

Philpott was forced to make a late change to his starting XV when winger Hayden Hann withdrew with a hamstring strain on Saturday. This allowed TJ Vaega to start and Pasqualle Dunn to be added to the subs bench.

In his first appearance since the win against Southland in round one, Dunn scored the Magpies second try.

Centre Jonah Lowe was the best of the Magpies yesterday. He made several line breaks and produced some tidy defensive work in partnership with second five-eighth Richard Buckman in the first half.

Philpott said that was a combination he would like to keep providing injuries and form allows him to. Lamborn and Cridge produced quality shifts.

When New Zealand under-20s prop Tim Farrell took the field in the 63rd minute as a replacement for Jason Long he joined the Vaega brothers, Falcon, flanker Hugh Renton and halfback Brad Weber as second generation Magpies to play first class rugby for this season's squad. The Magpies would have been proud of their discipline compared with previous displays as Tasman referee Mike Lash awarded them 11 penalties, three more than the Steelers.

Steelers fullback Tim Nanai-Williams deserved his player-of-the-match award in the wake of his two tries and some classy breaks often with assistance from halfback Augustine Pulu who was full of authority. Pulu's co-captain, lock Jimmy Tupou, and promising No 8 Samuel Henwood were inspirational in the Steelers starting pack.

Big 151.6kg prop Kalolo Tuiloma did some damage when he took the field as a 45th minute replacement.

Philpott agreed the six-day period in the buildup to Saturday night's match against Taranaki at Napier's McLean Park will be beneficial. He must stress the need for his troops to be more composed on attack and improve their ball security.

Sharpen up those aspects of play and continue the tweaking of the defensive systems and that long-awaited 80-minute effort should come.

Match highlights
Heartstopper: When Magpies pivot Tiaan Falcon dropped the ball in the 41st minute which resulted in a Steelers converted try three phases later. This sparked a huge momentum shift in the hosts favour.
Turning point: Steelers flanker Johnathan Kawau's 51st minute try which gave his side a 19-7 lead. With their high error rate the Magpies were never going to recover.
Player of the match: Steelers fullback Tim Nanai-Williams with two tries and numerous classy breaks. Close behind him were the Steelers pair of halfback Augustine Pulu and No 8 Samuel Henwood and Magpies centre Jonah Lowe.
Scorers: Counties-Manukau 33 (Tim Nanai-Williams 2, Kalolo Tuiloma, Johnathan Kawau, Fotu Lokotui tries; Baden Kerr 3, Luteru Laulala cons), Hawke's Bay 14 (Ash Dixon, Pasqualle Dunn tries; Ihaia West 2 cons). HT: 7-all.