Northland first five-eighths Dan Hawkins produced the kick of the season when launching a match-winning conversion from the sideline to beat Hawke’s Bay 23-21 in Whangarei on Friday.
His chance came after replacement lock Michael Stolberg was driven over in the corner from one of several pick and goes the home team mounted after the final siren had gone.
Hawke’s Bay conceded three penalties and they lost a player to the sin-bin as Northland capitalised to score and secure at least the draw.
But Hawkins, who had a relatively quiet night, stepped up and made no mistake with the heavy ball to snatch a win from the Ranfurly Shield holders.
It may have been miserably wet with players splashing their way around the ground, but the Hawke’s Bay maestro Ihaia West was able to show some deft touches, especially with intelligent kicking, that made light of the conditions.
West placed a superb kick across the field for wing Ryan Tongia to claim the ball and he was able to link with Richard Buckman but in the resulting play a penalty was conceded and the chance was lost.
As Northland looked to pin Hawke’s Bay in their own 22m area during the first quarter, Hawke’s Bay were unable to control their ball at the set piece and it was only after establishing more control that it played with more assurance.
That was seen when two lineout drives, the second when a penalty was kicked to the corner rather than for goal, resulted in a try for flanker Brendon O’Connor.
Hawke’s Bay looked to have taken a crucial advantage after Northland failed to control a mid-field bomb launched by Richard Buckman. Fast following Tongia had reward when toeing the ball over the line to score the try.
However, moments later, West made a rare mistake when having a kick charged down. Northland flanker Dan Pryor launched after the ball and won the race to slide over the line for the try.
Hawkins added the conversion and then added a penalty goal to get the home team within two points.
Throughout the third quarter the rain was torrential and controlling the ball was almost as big a test as scoring points.
That was proved 10 minutes from the end when O’Connor got around a disintegrating Northland scrum to catch halfback Kurt Davies with the ball. From the resulting ruck, the penalty was awarded and replacement five-eighths Matt Berquist took Hawke’s Bay out to a five-point lead.
Berquist’s experience meant the West-like touches were retained by Hawke’s Bay as he played to the corners through a tight final quarter.
Northland refused to lie down however, and a rare scrum success gave some late momentum and three penalties within 10m of the line.
Northland 23 (Dan Pryor, Michael Stolberg tries; Dan Hawkins 2 con, 3 pen)
Hawke’s Bay 21 (Brendon O’Connor, Ryan Tongia tries; Ihaia West con, 2 pen; Matt Berquist pen)