Hawke’s Bay will challenge Tasman in next week’s championship final after defeating Otago 29-24 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Less than 24 hours after the All Blacks and Wallabies set the same ground alight with breathtaking rugby, the two provinces fancied their chances of producing a similar spectacle.
What took place was just as entertaining thanks to the willingness of both sides to ‘have a go’.
After trailing by 16 points in the closing stages, Otago somehow got to within a converted try of executing what would have been one of the best comebacks in a provincial playoff match.
Luckily for the visitors, Ihaia West (19 points) was in fine form with the boot and gave his team confidence when it got tough. But after analysing the footage of the match, coach Craig Philpott will be full of praise for Alby Mathewson, who atoned for a poor start to edge his side ahead 16-10 at halftime.
The former All Black halfback darted across from the back of the scrum to put his side in front for the first time in the match after 30 minutes of play.
Then when the result was hanging in the balance, he produced another crucial play to send Richard Buckman across the whitewash.
Prior to that, Hawke’s Bay were guilty of being a little overeager and invited pressure with poor decisions and uncharacteristic errors.
Zac Guildford decided he would run out of his 22 only to be trapped by a wall of defenders, while Mathewson went looking for a miracle when he offloaded to a player that was already standing on the touch line.
Those senior players set a negative trend and when another misguided ball went to ground, Otago pounced through winger Matt Faddes, who had a clear run over 50 metres to score.
First-five Hayden Parker continued his good form with the boot, slotting the sideline conversion and a penalty goal.
His opposite West was well contained when opportunities came his way but did well to keep his side in the match with equally impressive kicking.
Trailing 9-10, Mathewson struck in timely fashion as the momentum swung the way of the visitors, who were unlucky not to score again through wing Telusa Veainu before the break.
Otago’s cause wasn’t helped when, just a minute into the second spell, tighthead Scott Manson launched into an unsuspecting West with his shoulder.
Although they avoided conceding points during his 10 minutes in the bin, the Magpies always looked the more threatening with ball in hand while their defence, led by the likes of Bredon O’Conner, was sound.
It looked as though a brief scuffle between Hawke’s Bay captain Karl Lowe and four Otago players was going to be the only highlight of the second half.
That was until Mathewson launched long kick from inside his half that eventually found its way to Richard Buckman, who extended the lead to 13 points.
Otago hit back through flanker Gareth Evans, but as West replied with his fifth penalty on the game the home fans began to lose hope.
The Razorbacks clearly didn’t. Lock Tom Franklin barged over the line one minute from time and as Parker slotted the conversion, the comeback was in sight.
TJ Ioane was one of the best on the field, but unfortunately his knock on sealed Otago’s fate as the Magpies received possession before booting the ball into touch.
Otago: 24 (Matt Faddes, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin tries; Hayden Parker 3 con, pen)
Hawke’s Bay: 29 (Alby Mathewson, Richard Buckman tries; Ihaia West 2 con, 5 pen)