The toughness of one of Hawke's Bay's greatest annual rugby matches was again on show in truckloads as the Hastings Boys' High School first XV won their big game against Napier Boys' High School on Saturday.
In rain and surrounded by a crowd of more than 1000 sporting a ceiling of umbrellas at Napier BHS, Hastings won the Super 8 round 2 match 16-8, the fifth time in a row the mid-June match has been won by the visiting team.
Having won 25-3 in Hastings in 2016, HBHS went back-to-back with a 38-3 win in Napier 12 months later, en route to becoming the national secondary schools champions.
Napier surprised with a 27-7 win over the Super 8 champions back in Hastings in 2018 while Hastings won 24-21 in Napier in 2019. Last year, Napier won 15-10 in Hastings, in fine conditions that contrasted directly with the rain both sides encountered this weekend.
Respective first five-eighths Hoera Stephenson, for Hastings, and Afa Moleli, for the home side, kicked a penalty each in the first half, to make it 3-3 at the break.
Each then scored just one try, the first to Hastings left wing Alex Dickey to make it 13-3 about 18 minutes into the second half with Napier No 8 Kala Malasia breaking left from a tap-penalty 8 metres out from the line after a series of punishing drives and mauls as the home side tried to snatch the result.
The Blues' conversion attempt was unsuccessful but, at 13-8 to Hastings, it was an open game again, for a brief moment before Stephenson, from about 25 metres out and in front, kicked his third penalty goal, part of a personal match haul of 11 points.
Two weeks out from a Moascar Cup challenge against Rotorua BHS, a chance to avenge last winter's loss of schools rugby's equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield, fourth-season Napier BHS and former Hawke's Bay Magpies coach Brendon Ratcliffe had the warmest of praise for the Hastings side, coached by 2006 Commonwealth Games Sevens gold medallist and former Hawke's Bay Magpie, Tafai Ioasa.
He said Hastings deserved the win and praised the performance of nationally-rated referee Nick Hogan in controlling a "tough" match in "difficult" conditions.
The day wasn't conducive to the type of rugby either side wanted to play, but there were relatively few spills and blemishes, and each side had periods of control in the forwards.
Ratcliffe said he believed Napier had won in the set pieces, while Hastings manager Jason Bird, said it was "the defence that won it for us".
Hastings, unbeaten after the competition's first two games, play Gisborne BHS in Hastings next week, while Napier play Tauranga BHS in the first of two consecutive trips to the Bay of Plenty.
Super 8 first XV rugby: Hastings Boys' High School 16 (Alex Dickey try; Hoera Stephenson 3 pens, con) Napier Boys' High School 8 (Kala Malasia try; Afa Moleli pen). Halftime: 3-3.