Napier Old Boys Marist wing Michael Buckley was back in the best of try-scoring form with the biggest bag of the Hawke's Bay Premier rugby season as his side won a crucial third-round Maddison Trophy match today.
Travelling across town to Whitmore Park, OBM whipped hosts Napier Tech Old Boys 49-22, the 26-year-old Buckley scoring four of his side's eight tries.
Nash Cup and 2020 Maddison Trophy finalists Taradale and Hastings Rugby and Sports remained in charge of their destinies, each making it three-from-three with bonus points in the Trophy race, Taradale beating Waipukurau side Central 36-5 at Tareha Recreation Reserve, Taradale, and Hastings similarly blessing its homeground supporters with a 31-5 win over neighbours Tamatea at Elwood Park, Hastings.
Rebounding from a 40-point loss to Hastings seven days earlier, Clive leapfrogged Tech to move back into the top four with a 25-21 away win over still winless MAC at Flaxmere Park.
Buckley started his winter sport as a football player, turning to rugby in time to play Ross Shield primary schools rugby for Napier, winning selection in the tournament representative team, going on to play other age-group rugby for Hawke's Bay, and as a loose forward in the Napier Boys' High School 1st XV.
He headed to university in Wellington, playing for Marist St Pats and joining the Wellington Lions wider-training group, before returning to Hawke's Bay in 2018./ He scored an astounding 35 tries in Nash Cup and Maddison Trophy matches that season, quickly earning Hawke's Bay Magpies selection and scoring in each of his first two starting-team matches in the NPC.
He's now scored four tries in a match for OBM at least six times and with Saturday's effort and two in OBM's loss to Taradale a week earlier, he now has 10 for the season, after his side's eight matches. OBM missed out on a place in the first-round Nash Cup final but has now clearly positioned itself as No 3 contender for places in the top four for the Maddison Trophy semifinals on July 10.
Tech scored first, with a try to midfield back Ted Walters, but the initial threat to OBM dissipated and it was essentially a case of classic blindside-to-the-left stuff for Buckley, as he scored his first three with OBM playing into the wind in the first half. The tries saw him flicking off first tackles, stepping out of trouble and heading for the line, the first coming from more than 40 metres out, and the third making it 27-12 at halftime..
In difficult goalkicking conditions, OBM first five-eighth Bain Champion kicked a penalty and two conversions, and with a try also he now heads the competition's points-scorer leaderboard with 70 for the season.
Taradale No 8 Iakopo Mapu was again among the points, with two tries against Central - on top of his three the previous weekend against Napier OBM - also keeping him at the top, now alongside Buckley, on the competition's try-scoring leaderboard.
Hastings R&S would have been surprised by the lack of real bite in the challenge from Tamatea, who were well out of their contest and all but out of top-four running when down 24-0 by halftime. The home team had the four-try bonus point by halftime and scored once more in the second half.
Clive, up 22-7 early in the second half of their match, faced a late two-try comeback by MAC, which closed the deficit to a single point, before fullback Tianua Poto landed the second of two penalties in a 10-point contribution to help seal the game.
All sides will be looking forward to a break over Queen's Birthday weekend, with NOBM facing big odds a week later against Hastings Rugby and Sports, but with a home at Park Island, Napier, and a will to avenge the Hastings side's 30-26 win in their Nash Cup match on April 17.
Tech face a bigger mountain in their next match away against Taradale , in the fourth of the Trophy's seven preliminary rounds, hoping to get a boost towards their belated centenary celebrations on June 18-20, postponed a year because of the Covid-19 crisis.
A crucial top-four placings match in that round will be between Central and Clive in Waipukurau, while MAC will have home advantage for its bottom-of-the-table clash with Tamatea.
Meanwhile, relegated side Napier Pirate took a minor hit to their hopes of an early return to the top grade when they were beaten 27-17 in a Senior 1 championship match in Napier, a big result for Dannevirke side and Senior 1 first-round country champions Aotea.
Fellow relegated club Havelock North made it safely through another match with a third win in three matches in the feeder grade by inflicting the third consecutive loss on Senior 1 first-round final winner Maraenui in Napier. The visiting villagers won 39-15 in a game that marked the reopening of the Maraenui clubrooms, which took a near half-million-dollar hit in the November 9 Napier flood.