Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby No 8 Gareth Evans has called for a heavy emphasis on one-on-one defensive work in the countdown to the start of the Mitre 10 Cup.
"While there were some encouraging signs we lost our way in the second half, missed some tackles and let in a couple of late tries. We need to focus on making those one-on-one tackles," Evans said after the Magpies 33-14 loss to Premiership champions Auckland in Cambridge today.
This was the Magpies final pre-season match before opening their Championship campaign away to the Manawatu Turbos on August 11 and it was one-test All Black Evans first match in four weeks after finishing the Super season with the Hurricanes. He was one of the Magpies standout players during 50 minutes of action.
One of three Magpies co-captains (openside flanker Brendon O'Connor and substitute hooker Ash Dixon were the others), Evans, was impressed with how the forwards went during the first half with the wind behind them in wet, windy and slippery conditions.
However he said the Magpies were guilty of making some mistakes when playing into the stiff breeze in the second half.
The Magpies trailed 12-0 after the first 24 minutes but fought back well to lead 14-12 at halftime. Hawke's Bay were awarded a penalty try and Evans scored the other try which was converted by first five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie.
"There were plenty of positive signs and it was pleasing not to collect any more injuries," Evans added.
Magpies head coach Mark Ozich was pleased with the collective effort, the intent and attitude of his troops against their bigger opponents and said it was hard to single out individuals.
When pressed further on the standouts he offered Evans, O'Connor, blindside flanker Josh Kaifa and starting hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes.
Ozich said Evans and O'Connor were effective in all aspects of play, Kaifa had a high defensive workrate and Baby Blacks captain Kereru-Symes shone with his low tackles.
"It wasn't a day for the backs," Ozich said.
"Our set piece work was pleasing but in the second half we turned over some ball and Auckland scored off some good off load work."
"We did some good stuff and then we fell away but that is to be expected when you are rotating a squad of 29 to try to give everyone game time."
"Auckland were a bigger and heavier team and in those conditions that took its toll on us."
Ozich pointed out another key focus next work will be lowering the body height in the contact area.
"That will help us be a bit more accurate in the collisions," he added.
■ Hawke's Bay Saracens head coach Mutu Ngarimu and assistant Murdoch Paewai have made numerous changes to their side for tomorrow's pre-season match against the King Country Heartland side at Napier's Park Island.
This is part of their plan to give as many players as possible an opportunity to push their case for selection when the Hurricanes Development competition begins on August 31. Just two of their players, second five-eighth Ted Walters and substitute prop Jody Allen, have had first class experience for the Magpies.
■ Lock Emil Crichton will play his 50th match for the Hastings Boys' High School first XV in their away match against Hamilton Boys' High School tomorrow.
Should the visitors win the match or lose while scoring four tries and finishing within seven points of their hosts they will host the same team in the Super 8 final the following weekend.
Co-captain and second five-eighth Jordan Thompson-Dunn is the only other player in the Tafai Ioasa-Karl Lowe-coached team who has played 50 matches for the side.
Thompson-Dunn's co-captain and openside flanker Connor Wadley returns to the side after missing last weekend's win against Tauranga Boys College through injury. Like the first XV, the Hastings Boys' High School second XV, is also unbeaten in Super 8 play and the Tivaini Fomai-Andy Green-coached team is also eager to maintain that run today.
Hawke's Bay Saracens: Kodie Drury-Hawkins, Travis Jansse, Mataeus Marsh, Ted Walters, Simon Quickfall, Marty Watson, Johnny Ika, Phil McRoberts, Damien Scott, Jason Cutbush, Donovan Mataira, Lucas Albornoz, Terry King, Frank Tupuola, Teremoana Joel. Substitutes: Forwards, Matt Morrison, Jody Allen, Tipene Lord, Everard Reid, Cristobel Niedmann. Backs, Humphrey Sheild, Johnny Lauano, Anzelo Tuitavuki, Jesse Paewai, Kalin Paewai, Trent Hape.
Hastings Boys' High School first XV: Mercedes Hodge, Joeli Rauca, Andrew Hayward, Jordan Thompson-Dunn (co-captain), Eldius Oli, Latrell Ah Kiong, Charlie Varcoe, Cooper Flanders, Connor Wadley (co-captain), Fraser Taurima-Heperi, Julian Goerke, Emil Crichton, Jeremiah Tuiatua, Jacob Dorward, Tini Nu'u. Substitutes: Forwards, Aone Lolofie, Aloese Aiolupotea, Daemon Brough, Donovan Godinet, Arama Kite. Backs, Phillip King-Panapa, Mefi Tupou.