October 11 - 2014 Hawkes Bay keep Shield for Summer

It took a last minute drop goal by five eight Ihaia West to do it but Hawkes Bay retained the Ranfurly Shield with a 20 all draw against Southland.

Whether you believe Ihaia West or his Hawke’s Bay Magpies rugby team head coach Craig Philpott it doesn’t matter … the Ranfurly Shield is staying in Hawke’s Bay for the summer.

Philpott reckoned the Magpies had rehearsed the plays which led to first five-eighth West’s dropped goal which secured Saturday night’s 20-all draw with the Southland Stags in the Magpies final shield defence of the season in front of 11,500 fans at McLean Park, Napier. West pointed out he had only practised dropped goals once at training since a similar nail biting dropped-goal effort which gave the Magpies a 29-26 win against Taranaki at the same venue on August 22.

“I was lucky my last attempt was in front of the posts. The previous one [three minutes earlier in the 77th minute] wasn’t and it missed after hitting Tom Stanley’s head,” West explained referring to substitute flanker Stanley.

Philpott had every right to praise West’s cool head and the manner in which his forwards gave West the necessary protection on the way to the Hawke’s Bay union’s 51st successful defence of the country’s most prestigious rugby trophy.

The Magpies are now third equal with Waikato on the list of shield tenure wins and Brendon O’Connor became the fourth Magpies captain after Alex Kirkpatrick, Maurice Brownlie and Kel Tremain to lock the shield away for the summer.

While thrilled to receive a congratulatory chat from “the best 10 to wear a Magpies jersey,” Blair Furlong, who produced a similar feat in 1967 which secured a 12-all draw with Wellington to keep the shield in the Bay for the summer, West was bang on when he stated it was a “pretty poor game” from the hosts. Improvement is a must if they are going to beat Northland in their ITM Cup Championship semifinal at McLean Park on Friday night. “The skill level wasn’t there and we’re going to have to get those little things right,” West said.

As the Magpies trotted into the changing room after the match it was easy to see relief written all over their faces. Early in the game it was equally as easy to see the pressure of the fourth defence of the season was taking its toll. During the first 10 minutes the Magpies bombed two tries, conceded three penalties, some soft missed tackles and a couple of crooked lineout throws. The Stags had taken the Hawke’s Bay crowd out of the game with more enthusiasm and the right tactics as they played into a strong wind.

With their forwards controlling set piece play well the Stags star backs, first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga, second five-eighth Willis Halaholo and fullback Junior Ngaluafe were running riot and by the 30th minute mark the visitors led 14-3. It was time for one of the Magpies stars to step up and make a statement.

Enter fullback Richard Buckman. The Highlander put speedster Shannan Chase away for his first try in the 33rd minute. West converted and two minutes later Buckman made another break which led to Chase’s second try which West converted to give the hosts a 17-14 halftime lead. With the game so tight it was a surprise to see the Magpies turn down a penalty attempt in the 41st minute.

Philpott said team physio Mark Nicol had the call to tell West to take the shot but he couldn’t get to the other side of the field in time. This decision along with some wayward long passing from the hosts and superb defensive work from the Stags saw the visitors work their way down to the right end of the field. Penalties from Sopoaga in the 61st minute, from in front of the posts, and in the 74th minute from 46 metres had the visitors in front 20-17. It was time for another of the Magpies big names to step up again and this time it was West.

O’Connor finished the match with a hamstring injury and Philpott said he was unlikely to be available for Friday night. Buckman is doubtful with an ankle injury and while vice-captain Ash Dixon required stitches he will play against the Taniwha.

Match stats

• HB Magpies 20 (Shannan Chase 2 tries; Ihaia West pen, 2 cons, dropped goal) Southland Stags 20 (Junior Ngaluafe, Lima Sopoaga tries; Sopoaga 2 pens, 2 cons). HT: 17-14.

• Turning point: Magpies first five-eighth Ihaia West’s 80th minute dropped goal. Only then did we know the shield will be safe in the Bay for the summer.

• Heartstopper: Stags centre and former Magpie Mark Jackman’s 21st minute tackle on his former teammate and Magpies second five-eighth Jason Shoemark. It was a cracker.

• Player of the match: Magpies fullback Richard Buckman. He set up both tries for winger Shannan Chase, had an average gain of 5.3 metres while beating five defenders during his 12 carries and made nine tackles. But only just ahead of Stags fullback Junior Ngaluafe and second five-eighth Willis Halaholo.