Hawke’s Bay reprised their three-point quarterfinal winning form of last year in hanging on for a narrow 31-28 win over Waikato in their Air NZ Cup rugby clash at McLean Park in Napier today.
Ahead 28-0 at halftime, the Bay had to survive a spirited Waikato comeback in the second spell to secure their fourth win at home over Waikato in the last two years.
In last year’s quarterfinals, Hawke’s Bay hung on for a 38-35 victory against Waikato, also at McLean Park.
The win means Bay captain Danny Lee has at least one more game in New Zealand before he moves overseas – in Christchurch next weekend against a Canterbury team which is looking more ominous with every match, following their 48-10 quarterfinal demolition of Tasman on Friday.
Wellington secured their home semifinal berth yesterday with a not-quite-convincing 50-30 victory over Taranaki at Wellington, while Southland became the first team in two years to win an away quarterfinal when they upset Bay of Plenty 45-11 in Mt Maunganui yesterday.
It looked as though Hawke’s Bay were going to run away with today’s game, as they crossed twice in the first 10 minutes through Zac Guildford and Jason Shoemark.
With five minutes until halftime, Karl Lowe crashed over for the Bay’s third try, Matt Berquist’s well-taken conversion giving them a 21-0 lead which was extended in the last minute of play when an undetected forward pass saw Shoemark cross for his second try and a 28-0 lead at the break.
Waikato came out firing in the second spell, scoring their first try of the match just three minutes after the restart.
Jackson Willison crossed after the ball was moved wide quickly, and Sitiveni Sivivatu flipped back a no-look pass for the second five-eighth to latch on to and score.
Callum Bruce made sure of the conversion, and Waikato looked a different side as they launched repeated attacks on the Hawke’s Bay line.
Sivivatu featured again after 55 minutes, stepping through a mesmerised Hawke’s Bay defence and crashing over from short range to leave Bruce with the easiest of conversions to edge Waikato closer at 14-28 down.
Loosehead prop Faka’anaua Taumalolo was sinbinned after the try for repeated used of hands in the ruck, leaving Hawke’s Bay a man down. Waikato made the most of the numbers advantage soon after when Tom Harding scored after he was set up by a great run in broken play from Bruce.
Hawke’s Bay extended their lead to 31-21 with a Berquist penalty after Sivivatu was penalised for tackling a player without the ball, only to see Waikato reply almost immediately when All Black Richard Kahui ghosted through to score an excellent individual try.
With Bruce’s conversion, Waikato were three points astray with 10 minutes to go, but the staunch Bay defence held strong to secure the win.