Reigning Hawke's Bay champions Hastings Rugby and Sports have taken a big step towards getting Premier grade 2021 first-round trophy the Nash Cup into the cabinet alongside the Maddison Trophy by beating Napier Old Boys Marist 30-26 in the third round of the new club rugby season on Saturday.
Playing on home ground Elwood Park, with each side unbeaten at the top of the five-team Pool 1, Hastings were down 7-0 early but bounced back to take the lead in the second quarter, led 22-12 at the turn and stretched the margin to 15 points before OBM stormed back with two converted tries to make a close game of it in the final stages.
Miracle Lolofie scored twice for Hastings, the hooker now leading the competition's tries table with four after three matches, while Connor McLeod, currently expected to make a big step-up as Magpies halfback in the absence of injured Folau Fakatava, landed two penalties and two conversions for Hastings, to lead the points-scoring stakes with 32.
In the key Pool 2 game, Taradale maintained their unbeaten record with 34-17 win over Napier Tech Old Boys at Whitmore Park, Napier. Taradale scored six tries, including two to wing Majella Tufuga, but converted just two.
It was close for much of the game, Tech leading 7-5 in the first quarter, and Taradale ahead 12-10 at halftime and 19-15 with about 20 minutes to go.
Hastings and 2019 cup winners and current holders Taradale meet in a crossover match next Saturday at Taradale, but by virtue of Saturday's wins are now in the box seats to play the May 8 final – a possible rematch of last year's championship final, in which Hastings claimed the Maddison Trophy outright for the first time.
At the other ends of the tables, former long-time finals hope Havelock North, without either trophy in the cabinet since a Maddison Trophy win in 2014, remained without a win in 2021 despite scoring three converted tries when beaten 31-21 by Clive in the pools' crossover match at Farndon Park, Clive.
Now trying to avoid the drop in the Premier grade's first relegation since 2006, under a new format being put into place this season, Havelock North face a crucial home match next Saturday against Central, who also remained without a win but with four tries did manage a second bonus point in being beaten 37-22 by Hastings side Tamatea on the Rural Air Work Country Rugby Day at Central Park, Waipukurau.
Also without a win are Napier Pirate who did, however, get a third bonus point in being beaten 19-14 by Flaxmere-based MAC, who had one player sent-off and another sin-binned in their match at Tamatea Park, Napier.
A feature was the country day in Waipukurau, with all five Central Hawke's Bay clubs represented along with Central Hawke's Bay College, former pupil Stu Catley clocking up his 100th match as a Premier grade referee, and the biggest rugby crowd on the park since All Black Brodie Retallick made a rare appearance for the club two years ago.
The feature of the main game was the generalship of Hawke's Bay Magpies first five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie, switching Tamatea immediately into gear as the visitors scored four tries in the first half hour, including two to right winger Elijah Mataira.
McClutchie also scored a try before retiring from the game with 20 minutes to go.
Conversely, Central "didn't start", in the words of stalwart Warwick Slingsby, and were left awaiting the return of lock Frank Lochore, prop Troy McIvor and 2020 New Zealand secondary schools first five Harry Godfrey, all cruelly taken away for the Super Rugby Aotearoa Under 20 tournament in Taupo, and Magpies prop Joel Hintz, out with a hand injury received getting into a helicopter at the end of a hunting trip.
The Napier OBM and Taradale reserve sides, Division 2 club Maraenui and 2020 Division 3 winner Bridge Pa remained unbeaten in Town and Country competition clashes, along with Dannevirke club Aotea, who had a bye.
The first final of the season will be in the Colts grade after a series of low-scoring and close first-round playoffs. Hastings beat 9-8 in Dannevirke and in the final for the Arthur Brown Cup will meet Napier Tech OB who beat Napier Pirate 7-0.
A golden-point penalty was needed to decide one Pool 5-8 playoff in which Clive beat Onga Tiko 8-5 in extra time.