Horowhenua-Kāpiti kept their play-off hopes alive in the Heartland championship with a win against Poverty Bay at Waikanae Park at the weekend, but not without a fright.
The home side streaked to an early lead after an early double to impressive fullback Jono Ihaka, and the tries kept coming. They led 26-0 at halftime, and seemed home and hosed.
But Poverty Bay stuck to their guns to make it tough going in the second half, with Horowhenua-Kāpiti eventually holding on for a 38-28 win.
While they were caught napping late, there was enough to suggest Horowhenua-Kāpiti was on an improving slope after weathering a throng of personnel changes due to injuries, defections and representative obligations in recent weeks.
There had been no fewer than 17 different players make their debut this season.
Newcomer Ihaka shone at fullback and his pace was rewarded with two well-taken tries , while the midfield pairing of Jaxon Tagavaitau and Kameli Kuruyabaki showed enough to suggest their union was a good one.
But it was the Horowhenua-Kāpiti forwards that set a good platform and aggressive defence saw them dominate up front early on, led by lock Katoa Tuitonga and loosehead prop Jordan Tupai-Ui.
Flanker-cum-hooker Nathan Kendrick had another busy game, as did captain and blindside flanker Aaron Lahmert in what was his 50th appearance in red, white and blue.
Replacement prop Scott Cameron also brought up his 50th game for Horowhenua-Kāpiti when he replaced Tupai-Ui midway through the second half.
The backline gelled well and would have provided coach Horowhenua-Kāpiti coach Chris Wilton with confidence as the season was about to get serious.
It was an important victory for Horowhenua-Kāpiti with just two games remaining, an away game against Wairarapa Bush in Masterton this weekend, then a home match against Whanganui at Levin Domain.
Both Whanganui and Wairarapa Bush were ahead of Horowhenua-Kāpiti on the points table, but two wins and a collection of bonus points would see them through to the semi-finals of the top tier play-offs.
South Canterbury and West Coast lead the competition with 22 points, one point ahead of Thames Valley, with North Otago and Wairarapa Bush next on 19 points.
Whanganui were alone on 18 points, with Buller and Horowhenua-Kāpiti next on 16 points.
Horowhenua-Kāpiti recorded their 13th win in 37 matches against Poverty Bay, while there was one drawn match, in 2014 (13-all).
Interestingly, their previous biggest score against Poverty Bay came at Waikanae Park in 2015, when they ran out 54-26 winners.
Both sides exchanged haka before the match.
While Levin Domain was recognised as the home of Horowhenua-Kāpiti rugby, there was by far the biggest crowd of the season yet at Waikanae, albeit helped by a balmy spring afternoon.
Each season there was one match played in the Kāpiti region, either at Paraparaumu Domain, Waikanae Park or Ōtaki Domain.
SCOREBOARD: Horowhenua-Kāpiti 38 (H Henare, J Ihaka 2, P Turia, J Tupai Ui, D Taylor tries, Henare try, four conversions) Poverty Bay 28. HT: 26-0.
OTHER RESULTS: Buller v Wairarapa Bush, at Westport 17-20. East Coast v West Coast at Ruatoria 19-21. King Country v South Canterbury at Taupō 19-21. Mid Canterbury v Thames Valley 17-31. North Otago v Wanganui 22-27.