The Hawke's Bay Magpies will play Nelson-Marlborough side and defending champion Tasman Makos in its first-ever national rugby championship Division 1 home semifinal next Saturday at McLean Park, Napier.
The match, in the playoffs for the Premier and overall title of NPC champion, will start at 4.35pm, and will be just Hawke's Bay's fourth top-division semifinal in the 46 years of the championship, to which playoffs and finals were added only in 1992.
The second semifinal will be between Waikato and Canterbury, starting at 7.05pm, and a Magpies win will mean the title is decided the following weekend also at McLean Park – which was the venue for the first-ever NPC Division 1 game on May 12, 1976.
With Hawke's Bay ending the regular season No 1-ranked for the first time, the semifinals draw was confirmed Saturday when Canterbury eliminated Bay of Plenty with a 40-28 win in Christchurch in the last regular-season Premier match of a season hit heavily by the Covid-19 crisis.
Earlier in the afternoon, Tasman, targeting the title for a third year in a row, eliminated Wellington with a 34-22 win in Blenheim, and on Friday night Waikato both clinched No 2 ranking and avoided elimination with a 27-25 win in Rotorua.
Meanwhile, Hawke's Bay was rounding-off its playoffs preparation with a 25-6 late-Saturday non-competition friendly win against Northland, also at McLean Park.
Hawke's Bay's is yet to win the national title, and was beaten in three consecutive semifinals in the first four years of the Air New Zealand Cup after it was introduced in 2006, with Hawke's Bay and four other teams, including then newly-formed Tasman, joining to create a new 14-team top grade in professional-amateur rugby split which also created Heartland Rugby for the other unions.
Hawke's Bay had won the Division 2 title in 2005, won of 10 trophy-winning performances out side the top division over the years.
All of its Cup-division semifinal exits to date were away matches and at the hands of the respective eventual champion, starting in 2007 when beaten 38-3 by Auckland at Eden Park, Auckland.
Qualifying third in 2008, the Bay's highest-ever placing, it was beaten 31-21 by eventual champion Canterbury in Christchurch, and in 2009, again in Christchurch, it was beaten 20-3 by Canterbury, which again went on to win the final.
Hawke's Bay's won the Division 2 North title in 1979, and the national Division 2 title in 1988 and 1990, all before the introduction of playoffs and finals.
It was then Division 2 top qualifier and final winner in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005, in a five-season 2001-2005 run which saw the Magpies beaten just five times in 52 matches, the losses coming in successive promotion-relegation games in 2001, 2002, and 2003, and a regular season game and the final in 2004.
It then won Cup championship-division finals and promotion to the Premiership in 2011, 2015 and last year.
Hawke's Bay was top-qualifier for the Division 2 playoffs in 1994 but after a big semifinal win over Bay of Plenty, was beaten 20-18 by Southland in a final played in Invercargill because the Bay had had home advantage in the team's round-robin match earlier in the season.
Hawke's Bay did not play NPC rugby in 1997 and 1998, when it formed a teams merger with Manawatu, known as the Central Vikings.
The Vikings scored some big wins in the two seasons in Division 2, including winning the final and all other nine matches in 1998, but the New Zealand Rugby Union declined promotion to Division 1 amid concerns for the viability of the team and its two unions, and the venture folded.