The best has yet to come from the Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team.

That was the warning from Magpies head coach Mark Ozich after his Mitre 10 Cup championship unbeaten leaders beat Taranaki 35-17 in Friday night's seventh round clash in front of 6698 fans at Napier's McLean Park.

"I'm happy with the way we are tracking but we've still got room for improvement. We haven't played the complete game yet and the boys know that," Ozich said.

He agreed the player-of-the-match display from Magpies halfback Folau Fakatava was up with the best he had seen from the 19-year-old Highlander at any level. Fakatava had an average gain of 6.83m off his six carries, beat five defenders, made 13 tackles and missed one.


"It's Folau's full repertoire of skills. His ability to beat a man with his pace, his ability to delay his pass, his box kicks and his game management," Ozich said.

Ozich was impressed with all four members of the 2017 National Top Four winning Hastings Boys' High School first XV, Fakatava, No 8 Devan Flanders, first five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie and second five-eighth Danny Toala, who were in his starting XV on Friday night.

"Those young boys just get better each week," Ozich said.

Toala scored two tries, was powerful on the burst and solid on defence. Winger Mason Emerson also scored two tries.

Emerson beat three defenders, had an average gain of 8.33m off his nine carries and was error free on defence. Impressive work when one takes into account he was marking former All Black winger Waisake Naholo.

"It's always awesome to go up against world class opposition and while we didn't get too many one-on-ones against him you play better when you're up against players like him," Emerson explained.

He was also quick to heap kudos on Fakatava.

"It's always good to have players like Folau running rings around them. Hopefully, he helps me get a few more dots before the season ends," Emerson said.


Fakatava is fortunate to be operating behind a cohesive Magpies pack. Considering the Magpies engine room was missing the services of injured No 8 Gareth Evans and lock Michael Allardice it functioned well and had no passengers.

Openside flanker Brendon O'Connor was error-free on defence, made 14 tackles and also secured several vital turnovers. Captain and hooker Ash Dixon made 15 tackles and was also error-free on defence.

The Magpies did well to keep their missed tackle count to 24, five more than Taranaki. The fact the hosts conceded just eight turnovers, nine less than Taranaki was impressive.

If there was a concern for the Magpies it was the conceding of 13 defensive penalties.

Another pleasing aspect of the hosts' performance was their ability to utilise a powerful short game after Taranaki were handed two yellow cards for maul infringements off consecutive plays.

Wellington referee Nick Hogan sin-binned former Magpies lock Leighton Price in the 44th minute and blindside flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis after awarding a penalty try a minute later.

While Taranaki was dealt a severe blow when former Magpies hooker, Hurricane Ricky Riccitelli, left the field with a calf injury in the 23rd minute his promising replacement his promising replacement Bradley Slater made the most of his opportunities and was up with the best of the visitors.

Captain and lock Mitchell Brown toiled well and made 13 tackles. Dixon said the score didn't reflect how hard Taranaki played.

Ozich pointed out Allardice and Evans with both be back for Saturday's away match against second placed Bay of Plenty. However, the Magpies will likely miss the services of Maori All Black and Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker Leawere.

He is scheduled to become a father for the first time later this week and should this eventuate he will become the third Magpies lock after Allardice and Tom Parsons to tick off this feat this season.

Match highlights
Heartstopper: Magpies fullback Caleb Makene's 78th minute tackle on Taranaki first five-eighth Stephen Perofeta. It was a beauty.
Turning point: Referee Nick Hogan sinbinning two Taranaki forwards during consecutive plays in the second half.
Player of the match: Magpies halfback Folau Fakatava. Great options, superb distribution and controlled the tempo well.
Hawke's Bay 35 (Mason Emerson 2, Danny Toala 2, penalty try tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 cons ), Taranaki 17 (Jayson Potroz, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis tries; Potroz con; Stephen Perofeta pen, con ). HT: 21-7.