Ihaia West produced a match-winning performance, when Hawke's Bay beat Auckland 17-12 in the ITM Cup on Thursday night.
The victory secured Hawke's Bay's 11th successful defence of the Ranfurly Shield and it could not have come under more dramatic circumstances. The tries from West and number eight Brendon O'Connor ultimately proved the difference in what was another tightly-contested fixture between the two teams.
West, who also contributed with seven points with the boot, exploited a rare opportunity in the 64th minute, after Bryce Heem dropped the ball in the in-goal area. The resultant five-metre scrum led to a vicious assault from Hawke's Bay, which included 12 phases, and West eventually zipped over to secure the victory.
Auckland did have an opportunity to keep themselves in the contest towards the end of the encounter but a critical error from Kurt Eklund, who failed to throw the final line-out ball in straight, helped seal his team's fate.
The result puts Hawke's Bay at the top of the Championship standings, where they are now seven points clear of Wellington. The fact that Wellington do still have a game in hand, makes their upcoming top-of-the-table clash against Hawke's Bay all the more exciting.
Auckland had looked on course to claim the Ranfurly Shield thanks to the boot of Simon Hickey, who kicked four penalties, but in the end their failure to score a try proved costly.
For Hawke's Bay:
Tries: O'Connor, West
Cons: West 2
Pens: S Hickey 4
Hawke's Bay: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ryan Tongia, 13 Richard Buckman, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Shannan Chase, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Brendon O'Connor (c), 7 Tom Stanley, 6 Tony Lamborn, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Brendon Edmonds, 2 Ash Dixon 1 Tolu Fahamokioa
Replacements: 16Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Jason Long, 18 Jarvy Aoake, 19 Junior Waqa, 20 Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 21 Ellery Wilson, 22 Billy Ropiha, 23 Robbie Fruean.
Auckland: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Vince Aso, 12 George Moala, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Jono Hickey, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 William Lloyd, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Tom McHugh, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Lolagi Visinia
Referee: Nick Briant