Hawke's Bay 36
Bay of Plenty 33
The Magpies had a Falcon to thank after they swooped in to steal a dramatic victory over Bay of Plenty and retain the Ranfurly Shield.
Hawke's Bay barely held on to the Log o' Wood at McLean Park this afternoon, needing extra time and two clutch kicks from Tiaan Falcon to see off a determined Steamers challenge.
The visitors appeared set to end a 17-year Shield drought and win the Battle of the Bays when Onisi Ratave's second try put his side three points ahead with three minutes to play.
But a rollercoaster game took another turn after the hooter had sounded, when Bay of Plenty were caught offside and substitute Falcon stepped up from 40 metres out to level the scores with a towering kick into a strong breeze.
The first-five - who had been introduced in place of an impressive Lincoln McClutchie with less than 10 minutes left - then landed a much more straightforward penalty in golden-point extra time to earn victory and the plaudits of his skipper.
"He was hoping to get that moment - it was a moment he wanted," Ash Dixon told Sky Sport. "We were fortunate enough to pick up an offside and take it into overtime, and from there we just held on to the ball."
The successful defence was the eighth of Hawke's Bay's reign, which began with a win over Otago last October. It was also the Magpies' 68th Shield victory, lifting them ahead of Waikato into third spot on the all-time standings behind Auckland (158) and Canterbury (151).
Few of those previous triumphs would've been as testing as today, the holders' first defence since beating Otago more than a month ago, with the NPC resuming this weekend after being shut down by the latest Covid outbreak.
"When we play BOP, we either get a hiding from them or they're pretty close games," Dixon said. "There's nothing in it between us - pretty tit for tat, just two teams trying to have a go.
"I was pretty happy with the way we went about our work. A heap to work on but really happy with the result."
Some of that work will be about conditioning after the lay-off, with Dixon admitting his team struggled to keep pace with their opponents following a frantic first half that saw six tries scored as the hosts took a 27-19 lead to the break.
"I think fatigue set in," Dixon said. "We were blowing a bit. We were just trying to stick to our structures and stick to our game plan, but we probably didn't have enough ball in that second half and we played at the wrong end of the field."
It took almost 20 minutes in the second spell for either side to get back over the tryline, with Otere Black coming off the bench to set up Sean Wainui with a teasing grubber.
That buoyed Bay of Plenty and they enjoyed their best period of pressure in the match, but the hosts' defence did just enough to repel their opponents and remain in front.
Having done the hard work, however, the Magpies fell asleep with a few minutes to play, the outstanding Ratave scything through a gaping hole to put his side on the verge of a famous victory.
But ill-discipline then undid the Steamers and set the stage for Falcon's heroics, as two swings of his right boot saw the Magpies pick up the Premiership points, reclaim the Macrae-Shelford Bay Cup and retain the Log o' Wood.
Hawke's Bay 36 (Ash Dixon, Solomone Funaki, Pouri Rakete-Stones tries; Lincoln McClutchie 3 cons, 3 pens, Tiaan Falcon 2 pens)
Bay of Plenty 33 (Onisi Ratave 2, Emoni Narawa, Luke Campbell, Sean Wainui tries; Kaleb Trask 2 cons, Otere Black 2 cons)