Hawke’s Bay players celebrate their victory over North Harbor. Photo / Photosport
Hawke’s Bay held off a spirited North Harbor challenge to claim their 13th defense of the log ‘o wood in a tense Ranfurly Shield clash at McLean Park.
The Magpies pulled off a 25-23 comeback victory to eclipse their last reign of 12 wins in 2014-15 and showed once again that it will take a monumental effort to prize the Shield off their hands.
Trailing by five points with 10 minutes to go, the hosts broke through Harbor’s desperate defense with their reliable rolling maul to tie the game in the 75th minute through hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes, with influential first-five Lincoln McClutchie slotting a clutch conversion to seal the victory.
Harbor were worthy challengers – bolstered by a brilliant Tevita Li hat-trick and another dominant performance from skipper Bryn Gatland – in an entertaining back-and-forth encounter, but couldn’t quite break their 15-year Shield drought as Hawke’s Bay proved too strong in the end.
“It was one of the toughest games I’ve ever been involved in. Great grit from the boys to stick in there in the end. Really proud of them,” Hawke’s Bay captain Tom Parsons told Sky Sport after the game.
“Shield footy is always like that. A massive contest and you’ve got to put everything into it otherwise you lose it.”
Harbor edged ahead several times in the clash as the Bay’s Shield defense looked increasingly like it would be unlucky number 13.
In a superb 70-meter move, starting with Shaun Stevenson and ending with Li finishing his third try, Harbor looked like they landed big blow to the Bay’s hopes to go ahead 23-15 with 20 minutes to go.
But the home side refused to let the challengers breathe as their patience and persistence paid off, ultimately completing a thrilling comeback.
“If we put phases together and put the pressure on, we knew we would come up with the result in the end. But credit to Harbor, they really pushed us and put us under pressure there at times,” Parsons said.
“The boys love it; they thrive off it,” he added about the long-running defense. “It gets us up at home and it’s something special for the province. We love getting the crowds that we get here so we’ve got to play for that.”
A disappointed Gatland said his side gave it their all.
“It’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. These opportunities don’t come around often and we really believed that we could turn up today and get it done. I think we left a lot out there, especially in the first half having the wind behind us and left a few points out there. We fought all the way to the end but credit to Hawke’s Bay – that’s why they’ve defended it for so long.
“We knew coming down here, they weren’t going to just give it to you and you’re not going to get any favors. You have to go out there and earn it and we didn’t quite do enough today.”
It was also a successful return to rugby for All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, who was solid for Hawke’s Bay in first NPC game since 2012, after being sidelined with a broken cheekbone for six weeks as he aims to return to the national side for next weekend’s clash against Argentina in Hamilton.