The future is promising for the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team despite Saturday night's semifinal loss in Dunedin.
"All the young kids have had a massive education and will be better for that. We've got a good core of players and the future is bright," Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said after his troops' 20-19 Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal loss to Dunedin in Forsyth Barr Stadium.
An 81st minute from Otago first five-eighth Josh Ioane from 34 metres out gave his side the win and a berth in Friday night's final against Waikato in Hamilton.
It came after Magpies lock Tom Parsons, who had another strong game, was penalised for joining a maul from the side.
"I'm proud of the boys. We went down swinging," Ozich said.
"It was a really good game of football and a couple of decisions here and there cost us. That's the nature of the game but there are lots of positive signs for the future," he added.
Third qualifiers for the Championship semifinals, the Magpies, opened the scoring in the third minute when No 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u scored off a lineout drive following the second penalty awarded in the Magpies favour by Wellington referee Ben O'Keefe. Fullback JJ Taulagi converted from out wide.
The visitors enjoyed 68 per cent of the possession during the first 11 minutes.
Former Otago halfback Brad Weber scored the Magpies second try in the 12th minute after superb buildup work from Taulagi and winger Mason Emerson.
Taulagi again slotted the extras. The only poor aspect of the Magpies play during the first quarter was two poor lineout throws from hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes who again impressed with his defensive workrate.
Otago, the second qualifiers and Ranfurly Shield holders, opened their account with a 26th minute penalty to Josh Ioane when Magpies flanker Geoff Cridge was ruled to be offside.
The Magpies produced some outstanding defence late in the first half when Otago retained possession for 14 phases before Magpies co-captain and openside flanker Gareth Evans, another former Otago player, forced a turnover. The visitors led 14-3 at halftime.
Hawke's Bay had 46 per cent of the territory and 43 per cent of the possession in the first half.
Otago introduced experienced loosie James Lentjes and All Black hooker Liam Coltman off the subs bench at halftime and it was Lentjes who made immediate impact forcing an early turnover.
Fortunately for the Magpies they were quick to win the ball back. However Otago were first to score in the second half when winger Mitchell Scott dashed over in the 49th minute after clever play earlier on from centre Matt Faddes. Ioane converted from out wide.
Magpies winger Jonah Lowe was unlucky to be forced into touch by Otago fullback and captain Michael Collins in a tryscoring situation in the 53rd minute after a spectacular solo run from first five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie.
Emerson put the Magpies ahead 19-10 with his 62nd minute try after clever buildup work from centre Stacey Ili. Otago remained in the hunt when second five-eighth Sio Tomkinson scored in the 72nd minute and Ioane converted.
After Ioane missed a penalty attempt from 45 metres out in the 77th minute he had his moment of glory seconds after the final siren.
"That's the worst way to go. We lost our way with seven minutes to go. We tried to close it up rather than keep playing," co-captain Weber said afterwards.
"We felt good at halftime and the confidence was there. Just a couple of lapses cost us."
"While we're gutted we could not go to the big dance we've got so many young fellahs who have stepped up this season. For years to come it will be outstanding moving forward," Weber added.
Weber and Evans were influential figures throughout the clash for the Magpies. However Evans would have been disappointed with a couple of the penalties he conceded.
Emerson, Lowe and Taulagi made the most of their opportunities. McClutchie again enhanced his chances of New Zealand Under-20 team selection next year.
Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u was again powerful for the Magpies while fellow loosies Devan Flanders and Josh Kaifa can be proud of their contributions off the subs bench.
Collins, who had a winning 50th appearance for the hosts said he was stoked for Ioane.
"He's a hell of a player but wasn't a quality kicker initially. But he's done a lot of work on his goalkicking and we're pretty proud of him."
Lock Josh Dickson was an inspirational figure in the Otago pack.
While the Otago backs struggled to deal with the Magpies defensive line speed initially Collins and Faddes displayed their class at the business end.
Looking ahead to the Magpies end-of-season awards it will be a surprise if Evans doesn't win the Player of the Year award in the wake of his All Blacks squad selection.
He should also win the forward of the year award but only just ahead of the likes of Parsons and Mikaele-Tu'u.
Taulagi and Maori All Blacks Lowe and Weber must be considered serious contenders for back of the year.
The rookie of the year category will be the toughest with the likes of Flanders, McClutchie and Kereru-Symes all capable of winning it.
Parsons, Lowe and prop Mark Braidwood could feature in the tussle for the players player award.
Heartstopper: Magpies prop Ben May's dropped ball in the 35th minute when the visitors were hot on attack. A crucial error during a powerful performance from May who returned after missing the previous game with a hamstring injury.
Turning point: When Otago first five-eighth Josh Ioane kicked the match winning penalty in the 81st minute.
Player of the match: Otago lock Josh Dickson. A phenomenal workrate and inspirational throughout for the hosts.
Scorers: Hawke's Bay Magpies 19 (Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Brad Weber, Mason Emerson tries; JJ Taulagi 2 cons ), Otago 20 (Mitchell Scott, Sio Tomkinson tries; Josh Ioane 2pens, 2 cons ). HT: 14-3.