The Ranfurly Shield is heading back to the Hawke's Bay – in eerily familiar circumstances.
A 28-9 victory over Otago saw Hawke's Bay become the fourth team to hold the Shield this season, with Otago's tenure ending just seven days after they had won the Shield off Taranaki.
Their first defence was against Hawke's Bay at Forsyth Barr Stadium, as it was in 2013. And, just like in 2013, their defence was short-lived.
Seven years ago, Hawke's Bay claimed a 20-19 victory to steal the Shield away after Otago had held it for only eight days. This time, it was a mere seven-day reign – the second-shortest in Shield history.
It was a deserved victory based on their second-half performance, but Otago would have been scratching their heads as to how the visitors led at halftime.
Otago had the majority of possession and on multiple occasions were dragged down just short of the line – or held up over it – before Hawke's Bay struck just before the break with a sweet passing move finished off by Lolagi Visinia to claim a surprise 7-6 halftime lead.
Folau Fakatava had helped spark that try, and after the interval he added his own piece of magic, cutting the Otago defence to shreds with a mazy individual run to extend their lead. A Josh Ioane penalty kept Otago in touch, but that was as close as they'd come, with Vilimoni Koroi sinbinned for taking out Caleb Makene in the air, before they were reduced to 13 men when Slade McDowall was sent off after his attempted tackle connected with the head of Jonah Lowe.
Tries to Isaia Walker-Leawere and Kurt Baker sealed the deal, with Hawke's Bay captain Ash Dixon crediting his team's first-half fight – and a bit of luck – as the key to victory.
"I'm very excited – very pumped – my kids couldn't make it down here but they're probably more pumped than I am. I'm just really grateful and stoked with the team's ticker tonight," said Dixon.
"To be honest, for the first half we were under the pump, for 38 minutes, we got a bit of a lucky break and managed to take our opportunity. We scrambled hard and we were gassed.
"We lost the breakdown, at times our scrum was okay, but we just fought as hard as we could and managed to get a couple of lucky breaks. That's what happens in footy – obviously very fortunate, but I don't think the score reflects how the game was, it was bloody tough out there."
The victory also puts Hawke's Bay atop the Championship ladder, with both divisions tightly contested after North Harbour pulled off a stunning upset over Tasman in the Premiership.
Harbour came into the match winless through three games, while Tasman had a perfect record, with three bonus-point victories having extended their unbeaten run to 15 games, but a superb performance, featuring 20 points from first-five Bryn Gatland, led to a 40-24 victory.
Tasman's defeat means that there are no undefeated teams left in the Mitre 10 Cup, though they still hold a one-point buffer atop the Premiership ladder ahead of Auckland, and Waikato, who edged Southland 10-9 in an ugly clash in Invercagill.
Hawke's Bay 28 (Lolagi Visinia, Folau Fakatava, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Kurt Baker tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2 cons, Caleb Makene 2 cons)
Otago 9 (Josh Ioane 3 pens)