Northland Taniwha crushed by Hawke's Bay juggernaut in Mitre 10 Cup – but Kauri win

Danny Toala barges over under the posts for the hosts’ third try against Northland to retain the Ranfurly Shield. Photo / Hawke’s Bay Today
Photo / Hawke’s Bay Today

Of all the defeats Northland have and will suffer this Mitre 10 Cup season, Friday night’s in Napier is the one that will hurt the most.

They will know there were key moments – too many – where they made unforced errors and failed to nail their opportunities in the Ranfurly Shield match at McLean Park to lose 33-17.

What can you say? The Taniwha of old, maybe?

But in the Farah Palmer Cup, the Northland Kauri continued their march, dispatching Bay of Plenty 32-0 away.

If Northland was still in the hunt when the Hawke’s Bay juggernaut began in Napier, it was only because of the muscular threat posed by Ranger and the tactical brilliance of Nock, whenever they were played into space.

It did not happen nearly often enough, though. Lua Li’s last-minute try was wholly irrelevant but, by then, the Taniwha themselves had become an irrelevance.

The frustration will be not just that they lost, but the fact they didn’t take their opportunities in the first half when they had the Magpies where they wanted them.

Northland was playing the better rugby; spending long periods in the parts of the field they wanted to be in and they had the opportunities to finish things off before the final quarter.

Ranger failed to capitalise off a clever kick in behind by Hawkins. More Cambridge Blue jerseys could have been an ideal platform for pick and goes with the tryline at their mercy.

Even when they got a second bite at the cherry, Blake Hohaia knocked on a pass flung off an attacking scrum right in front of the posts.

The clinical parts of their game deserted them when they really needed them. Nailing a dearth of opportunities in a long-awaited Shield challenge is pivotal.

Action from the Northland and Hawke's Bay Mitre 10 Cup match at McLean Park.
Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
Action from the Northland and Hawke’s Bay Mitre 10 Cup match at McLean Park.
Photo / Hawke’s Bay Today

Northland had to be ruthless when applying pressure because the margins at this level are so thin and players such as Ash Dixon and Lolagi Visinia are so good, that they just need one touch to change things.

The Taniwha were in control in the first half, keeping the ball in hand, Ranger running hard and brushing aside tacklers with merciless contempt, and halfback Nock wreaking havoc running straight up the middle before pushing it wide.

Nock, playing with a venomous enthusiasm and a knack for finding space around the fringes, was one of the standout players. Ironically, he made his Northland debut at the same venue in 2015.

Northland made no secret it wanted to play a territorial game and an explosive first quarter would have put them in good stead, but the flow and rhythm went missing as the match wore on.

It was classic Northland rugby of old and it wasn’t long before the Magpies began cleaning their studs on the visitors. Hawke’s Bay were in overdrive, the Taniwha in meltdown.

Northland’s decision-making got worse, communication was not the best at crucial times, the confidence to attack somewhat wobbled in the face of the hosts defensive wall, and they pretty much opened the door for the Magpies’ explosive athletes using a combination of their strength, pace and skill to damage them.

Northland engaged in the occasional defiant yap, too often reducing it to a whimper when it ought to have emitted a loud bark.

But even in the face of such adversity, Northland played themselves into contention when replacement Lua Li scored and closed the gap to within 11 points in the last quarter.

But they casually threw it away thereafter, when miscommunication between Scott Gregory and Josh Goodhue from kickoff gave Hawke’s Bay a huge let-off.

Heroes one moment, villains the next summed up Northland players when they needed to nail the door shut.

Dejected Northland players Rene Ranger, left, and Kara Pryor after they lost the Ranfurly Shield challenge in Napier.
Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
Dejected Northland players Rene Ranger, left, and Kara Pryor after they lost the Ranfurly Shield challenge in Napier.
Photo / Hawke’s Bay Today

Coach George Konia said unforced errors and missed opportunities rather than the pressure of winning the shield proved to be his side’s Achilles heel.

“Everyone’s disappointed with the result. We’ve always talked about wanting to do well and get the competition points but unfortunately we didn’t get that last night [Friday]. We’ll dust ourselves off pretty quickly and focus on Otago now.”

Despite the loss, Konia said his players gave 100 per cent against a very good Hawke’s Bay side.

He thanked Taniwha supporters who were at McLean Park and urged them to keep backing the team as it looked to bag maximum points in the next four games.

With a right foot step, Magpies midfield back Neria Fomai beat Scott Gregory and belted to the tryline for the first try and then the second by Dixon, playing his 101st game for the hosts.

Two more from Danny Toala and No 8 Devan Flanders all but secured them the bonus-point victory.

Meanwhile, the Northland Kauri keeps on winning in the Farah Palmer Cup.

The team thrashed Bay of Plenty 32-0 at Mt Maunganui on Saturday to climb to third position in the North pool.

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