Canterbury and Hawke's Bay played out a hard-fought 23-all draw at AMI Stadium in Christchurch to open their ITM Cup seasons.
Canterbury and Hawke's Bay played out a thrilling 23-23 draw in their opening ITM Cup clash in Christchurch, the visitors leveling the match three minutes into full-time.
Replacement pivot Andrew Horrell was the Magpies' hero after taking a pressure penalty kick to deny the defending champions victory.
Until then it had seemed as if Canterbury would emerge with a narrow escape after Colin Slade put them in front two minutes from full-time with his third penalty of the match.
But Hawke's Bay forced their way into Canterbury territory and won their umpteenth penalty at the breakdown, which Horrell converted into crucial points.
It wasn't exactly a case of sweet revenge for Hawke's Bay who suffered two defeats last year to their hosts, but they'll be content with a draw – the first between the two sides since 1991.
As expected, the match was played at a furious pace with both sides putting the width of the pitch to good use while the tackles on display certainly weren't for the faint-hearted.
It was Hawke's Bay who got on the scoreboard first though thanks to a three-pointer from starting fly-half Daniel Kirkpatrick from 40m out.
Canterbury responded immediately and from a line-out, the ball was sent through the hands which ended with full-back Sean Maitland diving over for the simplest of tries. Slade converted for a 7-3 advantage.
Kirkpatrick's range was faultless as he punished two more Canterbury infringements, snatching a 9-7 lead, but was forced to leave the field after a knock to the head.
Horrell stepped in to the vacant pivot position and also split the uprights, but Slade resumed the two-point deficit (12-10).
The Magpies got their first and only five-pointer of the match thanks to a rumbling effort from the pack that gifted hooker Hika Elliot his first try of the tournament. Horrell misfired with the extras from wide out, but the visitors' lead stretched out to 17-10.
They ended the spell with Clint Newland watching on from the sideline after referee Matt Stanish carded the prop for 10 minutes for an extremely late charge on Canterbury centre Stephen Brett.
Slade closed the gap to four points (17-13) as the hooter sounded.
Canterbury took just 20 seconds after the half-time break to hit the lead, with wing Tu Umaga-Marshall scoring a try from a chargedown of an attempted clearance by Hawke's Bay captain Jason Shoemark – the home side now ahead 20-17.
But both sides largely cancelled one another out for the next 40 minutes, although the visitors levelled the scores in the 54th minute through Horrell's second penalty.
Canterbury had more chances to pull away than their visitors with several try-scoring opportunities squandered thanks to brilliant – and sometimes desperate – defence from Hawke's Bay as they repelled wave after wave of concerted pressure on its own line.
The deadlock remained unbroken with just two minutes left on the clock, and it seemed a draw was a fitting result until Slade was awarded a penalty under the sticks. The Canterbury pivot raised the flags and it seemed all but over.
However, Hawke's Bay weren't going down without a fight and, with the help of several penalties, clawed their way towards the home side's 22 where Horrell had the last laugh, earning his side a deserved share of the points.
Tries: Maitland, Umaga Marshall
Pens: Slade 3
For Hawke's Bay:
Pens: Kirkpatrick 3, Horrell 2
Canterbury: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Stephen Brett, 11 Tu Umaga-Marshall, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Ash Parker, 7 George Whitelock (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Pete Borlase, 2 Steve Fualau, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Paul Ngauamo, 17 Andrew Olorenshaw, 18 Rob Verbakel, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Matt George, 21 Robbie Flynn, 22 Telusa Veainu.
Hawke's Bay: 15 Luke Rooney, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Jason Shoemark (c), 12 Ryan McLeod, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Mike Coman, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 5 Ross Kennedy, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Hikawera Elliot, 1 Kas Lealamanua.
Replacements: 16 Eugene Smith, 17 Josh Keys, 18 Leighton Price, 19 Michael Johnson, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Mark Jackman.