Hawke's Bay stage second half fightback for first win

Getty Images

Saturday, August 19, 2017    Getty Images

Hawke's Bay have pulled off a classy fightback to overcome a horror start and big injury toll to roll over the top of Southland 24 - 16 in Napier.

It was a game of the old cliche as the southern visitors took control of the opening stanza, dominating every aspect of the match to jump out to a 13 - 3 lead - a lead that should have been significantly greater but for the butchering of at least two gilt-edged opportunities.

McLean Park might double as a cricket venue but the Magpies would have no hope of switching codes if their opening half of the season is anything to go by, spilling every bomb the southern raiders sent into the grey sky. The pill, in their eyes, must have looked like an airborne porcupine given the effort that went into not catching it.

To make matters worse for the home side they lost three players to injury during that period, including key loosies Gareth Evans and Tony Lomborn. The penalty count also blew out to 6 - 1 against them as their discipline at the ruck became a problem.

Southland centre Neria Formai's debut lasted only five minutes before he was knocked unconscious making a tackle to trigger the casualty ward flood, but his absence did nothing to put his teammates off their game as they dominated the collisions, set piece and territory early on. Their scrum, in particular, was a significant weapon.

The sole try of the opening 40 minutes went to Southland second-five Matthew Thompson, who proved to be a handful all game in a backline that lacked cohesion at times but will only get better as they spend more time together. The remainder of the Southland points were landed by Scott Eade's boot.

Whatever Bay coach Craig Philpott said at halftime clearly worked as his charges showed greater urgency and accuracy to run in three quality tries. With Hurricanes-bound first-five Ihaia West calmly pulling the strings the win always looked likely from the moment replacement openside Hugh Renton forced a ruck turnover and the ball was spun immediately wide. Centre Cardiff Vaega made the break and then popped up again to give his brother TJ the last pass to cross on the right wing, finishing off a 70m dash.

Fullback Tiaan Falcon was next on the board when he was first to a TJ Vaega grubber, before blindside Marino Mikaele Tu'u capped a huge game when he stormed over after a concerted period of attack to seal the match and send the crowd home happy.

For the Magpies, experienced halfback Chris Eaton was at his niggly best while Renton made a big impression when he entered the fray and it was ultimately the forwards that were able to turn this match around after being beaten up badly early on.