Hawke's Bay Magpies 24
There was one bitter taste in the mouth of Hawke's Bay Magpies' head coach Mark Ozich after today's loss to Canterbury in Christchuch.
"We deserved a bonus point out of that but it wasn't to be," Ozich said after the Magpies 49-24 defeat in their Mitre 10 Cup eighth round crossover clash at AMI Stadium, Addington.
Apart from that bitter taste for Ozich there were plenty of positives for him and his troops to toast. The main one was the fact he made 10 changes to his starting XV and the youngsters stepped up and proved they will be able to cope should there be injuries at the business end of the season.
"Yes the youngsters keep coming," Ozich said referring to the likes of No 8 Devan Flanders who had his first starting XV appearance, likewise halfback Folau Fakatava, who played the entire game, centre Shae Tucker who made his debut, winger Michael Buckley, who celebrated his first starting XV appearance with a try, Danny Toala who made his first first class appearance off the subs bench and loosie Solomone Funaki who made his Magpies debut off the pine and provided quality impact.
"It's easy to focus on the youngsters and they deserve all the recognition they get but let's not forget to the contributions from those experience club players like Jason Long, Mark Braidwood and Geoff Cridge today," Ozich said.
"We left five experienced players [prop Ben May, regular captain and No 8 Gareth Evans, fellow loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u and midfielders Pasqualle Dunn and Stacey Ili] at home because they've played a lot of minutes. Yet we were still able to compete and dominate the break down for long periods. But Canterbury have a lot of depth and when they turned the ball over they were hard to stop," Ozich continued.
Magpies captain for the day, lock Tom Parsons, was a powerhouse as he clocked up 1000 minutes for his blazer and ruled most of the collisions he attacked and forced several turnovers. He had a huge defensive workrate too.
"I'm pretty proud of the boys. We had a new-look team which stepped up at times. It was the end of our Storm Week and we gave a lot of young fellahs a chance. We put plenty of focus on the breakdown during our buildup and we were able to achieve dominance at times," Parsons said.
The Magpies scored three tries. Second five-eighth Sasa Tofilau scored the first in the 20th minute when in-form first five-eighth Lincoln McClutchie sold two dummies before putting Tofilau through a hole.
Buckley also sold a couple of dummies and used his tremendous gas to score his in the 44th minute when the Cantabs were waiting for Auckland referee James Doleman to rule on an earlier knock on. Fakatava finished off a spectacular team try in the 65th minute after clever buildup work from fullback JJ Taulagi, winger Jonah Lowe and Toala.
Another positive for the Magpies was the 100 per cent goalkicking success rate from Taulagi who Ozich ranks as the Magpies goalkicking deputy to injured pivot Tiaan Falcon. Taulagi converted all three tries and also slotted a penalty attempt.
Providing the Magpies can continue to improve their missed tackle count, three misses during the first 31 minutes was a huge improvement on recent weeks, and reduce their turnovers conceded count they should be able to beat Manawatu on Friday night at Napier's McLean Park and stay in semifinal contention. Those five-rested first stringers should be able to feed off the enthusiasm displayed by their teammates today.
Canterbury are beginning to peak for the business end of the season and that showed particularly during the second half afrter the hosts led 21-10 at halftime.
"Hawke's Bay came to play and took it to us in the first half," captain and halfback Mitchell Drummond said.
"We didn't look after the ball well enough in the first half. But it was pleasing we were able to put them away in the second half," he added.
Canterbury lock Mitchell Dunshea deserved the player-of-the-match award. Fellow lock Luke Romano displayed the type of authority expected from a bloke with his vast experience.
First five-eighth Brett Cameron was impressive with his option taking and did well to land all seven of his attempts at goal. World championship winning 2017 Baby Black, centre Braydon Ennor, deserved his two tries.
Fullback George Bridge was another lethal attacker for the hosts and substitute winger Connor Garden-Bachop was dangerous. Former Magpies loosie Hugh Renton took the field as a sub for the hosts.
Magpies hooker Ben Power left the field for an HIA and Ozich said he could be doubtful for Friday night. Ozich was also happy to report Dunn and wife Christie welcomed a new baby boy into the world on Thursday night.
• Heartstopper: Magpies halfback Folau Fakatava's try-saving tackle just before halftime. It needed to be made to keep the Magpies in the hunt and it was a beauty.
• Turning point: When Canterbury centre Braydon Ennor scored his second try in the 56th minute to give Canterbury a 35-17 lead. It was always going to be tough for the Magpies from here.
• Player of the match: Canterbury lock Mitchell Dunshea with a massive work rate. But only just ahead of his first five-eighth Brett Cameron who controlled play well and had seven conversion from as many attempts at goal and Magpies captain and lock Tom Parsons.
Canterbury 49 (Braydon Ennor 2, Alex Hodgman, Tom Christie, George Bridge, Mitchell Drummond, Connor Garden-Bachop tries; Brett Cameron 7 cons)
Hawke's Bay Magpies 24 (Sasa Tofilau, Michael Buckley, Folau Fakatava tries; JJ Taulagi 3 cons, pen)
Counties Manukau 20
In the later game, Northland claimed a crucial win over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe.
The Taniwha won 24-10 in a tense match that sees them move to third on the championship ladder.
The Steelers remain in sixth on the premiership's table.
Northland 24 (Jordan Hyland try, Joshua Goodhue try, Jono Kitto try; Jack Debreczeni 3 cons, pen)
Counties Manukau 20 (Sione Molia try, Fotu Lokotui try, Toni Pulu try; Luteru Laulala con, pen)