Michael Bradley / Getty Images
Haereiti Hetet of Bay of Plenty makes a break during the NPC match against Northland in Tauranga. Northland won 23-21.
Northland 23 (Josh Moorby, Matt Matich, Jone Macilai tries; Rivez Reihana con, pen, Dan Hawkins pen), Bay of Plenty 21 (Veveni Lasaqa, Luke Donaldson tries; Wharenui Hawera con, 3 pen). HT: 15-5
All Blacks coach Ian Foster should have been pleased with tighthead prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s shift, but his joy would be nothing compared to that of the Northland team after they upset Bay of Plenty 23-21 on Wednesday.
Replacement back Dan Hawkins kicked a late penalty to earn Northland a pulsating win in the national provincial championship match at Tauranga Domain.
It was Northland’s first away win over Bay of Plenty since 2014.
You couldn’t beat the post-match reaction from Northland captain Matt Matich, either. When he fronted for the TV interview with Sky Sport, he couldn’t contain his excitement di lui, celebrating with a loud roar.
Fair enough, too. Northland earned this.
Back to Tu’ungapasi. He put in a decent afternoon’s work before he was replaced in the 64th minute, and survived a scare when he spent several minutes on the deck with what appeared to be a sore neck.
So he had to watch from the sideline as Northland scrambled back for this memorable win – and they earned the crucial penalty off yet another powerful scrum.
The composure of Bay of Plenty’s key decision makers almost enabled them to escape with a victory when fullback Wharenui Hawera kicked a late penalty to put his side in front in the 72nd minute, setting up a frantic finish as Northland fought their way back into the contest .
A try to halfback Luke Donaldson appeared to have sparked Bay of Plenty into life in the second half, along with the boot of Hawera, but it wasn’t to be the home side’s day.
Northland coach George Konia should have had more ticks than crosses in his notebook when he rolled into the shed to offer words of encouragement at halftime.
Rightly so, too. Given his team led 15-5, with fullback Josh Moorby and captain and No 8 Matich scoring tries and Rivez Reihana topping up the account with his boot, the Taniwha had done little to disappoint.
Konia was probably miffed Moorby ignored an overlap in the 11th minute to go alone, and was unable to grass the ball over the tryline, but he redeemed himself when he used his acceleration to bust through a gap and score.
Bay of Plenty coach Mike Delany would have, among other things, demanded better discipline at the breakdowns after No 7 Veveni Lasaqa posted their side’s only try from a lineout drive.
Delany will now contemplate how to get the truck back on the road after this defeat ended a four-match winning streak.
The big moment
There is only one thing for it. The late penalty kicked by Hawkins.
Pulsating down the home straight, but errors from both sides made this a stop-start-stop drama.
The big picture:
Northland has kept its chances of making the playoffs in the Evens conference alive. They meet Manawatū on Sunday. Another win, preferably with a bonus point, could enable them to scrape into the top four.
Bay of Plenty are still sitting in second place in the Odds conference, but they will be bitterly disappointed with this result which snaps their four-game winning streak.
Let’s go for Northland skipper Matich. He worked his butt off, along with the rest of the pack.