Steamers fall agonisingly short in Napier
Starting the second half in second gear and conceding a last minute converted try has left the Bay of Plenty Steamers dealing with an agonising one point loss in their Mitre 10 Cup clash with Hawkes Bay in Napier this afternoon.
The 29-28 defeat means the Steamers concede the MacCrae-Shelford Cup to Hawkes Bay, and the right to call themselves The Bay for the next 12 months, but more importantly has let them slip out to a seven point lead at the top of the Championship division table.
The Steamers have actually now fallen to third behind Otago.
The loss will be all the more painful for the Steamers as they appeared to have recovered from ten minutes of slumber immediately after halftime during which they let the home side in for two tries to turn a 13-8 halftime deficit into a 22-13 lead.
Halfback Richard Judd scored the second of his two tries and veteran number 10 Mike Delany got over the line after a buccaneering run from replacement lock Aaron Carroll to put the Steamers back in front, then a Delany penalty put them six points up at 28-22 into the final ten minutes.
The home side needed a converted try to snatch it, and with the support of the 5152 crowd behind them went about it in determined fashion. A series of Steamers errors and penalties gave Hawkes Bay good field position, then after a spell of forward pressure replacement prop Joe Apikitoa drove through a pile of bodies to force it next to the posts.
First-five Tiaan Falcon had a handy position for the conversion, but if he felt any pressure he didn't show it as he calmly raised the flags and handed his team the win.
It was a match of two halves which curiously matched eachother, aside from the ending. The Steamers, playing into a decent breeze, began on the back foot, and conceded a contentious early try to wing Jonah Lowe. The TMO checked for a possible forward pass and a foot in touch, but gave the okay on both.
After that setback the Steamers set about taking control, developing the phases with good ball retention and astute low into-the-wind kicking from Delany. The scrum too was a particular area the blue-and-golds showed clear dominance.
Despite their advantage in possession, however, the scoring opportunities weren't coming. Delany kicked two penalties and missed another, but it wasn't until halfback Richard Judd came up with a piece of individual inventiveness with three minutes of the half to play that the Steamers were able to create try-scoring chance.
Judd simply gathered the ball from the base of a scrum and was able to scamper through a gap left by a defence expecting him to pass.
Having got themselves in front, and playing a controlled and clinical game, the Steamers should have come out firing in the second spell knowing a valuable win was well within their grasp.
Instead their minds appeared to be elsewhere as Hawkes Bay moved up a gear, and very quickly got themselves back in front with two rapid-fire tries to halfback Brad Weber – a very familiar face to Chiefs fans.
The first came as he sniped from the base of a scrum, and the second directly from the resulting kickoff as the Steamers hung back on the kick return and allowed the home side to take the ball with freedom to run.
Though they then hauled themselves back in front thanks to Judd and Delany, it was Hawkes Bay who sniffed the opportunity for the win and had the hunger to take it.
“It was just a game of missed opportunities for us,” says Steamers co-captain Tanerau Latimer, who blamed himself for the error that enabled Hawkes Bay to get in position for the winning try.
On reflection though they may feel it was more about failing to create enough opportunities from the possession and territorial advantages they enjoyed rather than missing the chances they did have.
“I don't think too much went wrong,” he says, “but again when we get down there let's get some more points.”
Bay of Plenty 28 (Richard Judd 2, Mike Delany tries; Delany 2 con, 3 pen) Hawke’s Bay 29 (Brad Weber 2, Jonah Lowe, Joe Apikatoa tries; Tiaan Falcon 3 con, pen) HT: 13-8
Earlier the Bay of Plenty Volcanix had a tough day in the first ever provincial championship match staged at Matata, going down to Waikato 44-7 in their Farah Palmer Cup encounter after trailing 13-0 at halftime.