Hawke's Bay have extended their unbeaten start to their Mitre 10 Cup season and sealed a championship semi-final spot with 35-17 victory over Taranaki in Napier.
The result put the Magpies 12 competition points clear of nearest rivals Bay of Plenty and 19 ahead of fifth-placed Taranaki. With six wins and one draw, and only three games remaining, they can't be displaced from the top four.
The home side were always in control of the encounter, but really stamped their superiority during a 12-minute period early in the second half, when they reduced their opponents to just 13 men and capitalised with two converted tries.
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Hawke's Bay opened the scoring in just the second minute, when halfback Folau Fakatava made ground down the left flank, chipped ahead and the awkward bounce fell kindly for winger Mason Emerson to force for the try.
Another wicked bounce accounted for Taranaki's opening try, when fullback Jayson Patroz kicked from his own half and when the ball eluded defenders, he loomed outside Waisake Naholo for the final pass.
Fakatava and Emerson combined for the Magpies' second try, when the halfback broke from a scrum and found his wing steaming upfield in support. Emerson's speed carried him clear of pursuing tacklers.
The Hawke's Bay forward pack set the platform for their third, laying siege to the goal-line, before Fakatava found second-five Danny Toala spun away from the defence to score.
The visitors battled gamely through the remainder of the first half, keeping their rivals at bay to trail 21-7 at the break.
But soon after the restart, their resistance broke, when constant infringing saw lock Leighton Price sin-binned.
Shorthanded, the Taranaki pack was sent reeling by their counterparts close to the line, conceding a penalty try and losing another man - flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis - to a yellow card.
Before Price's return, Toala snared his second try off the back of another forward drive and Hawke's Bay's lead had extended by 14 points.
Restored to their full quota and trailing 35-10, Taranaki struck back through Bedwell-Curtis, but were unable to make further inroads into their deficit.
The Magpies face Bay of Plenty next Saturday for the right to call themselves 'The Bay' and a guaranteed top-of-table finish, while Taranaki have a chance to re-ignite their campaign against hapless Southland on Thursday.
Hawke's Bay 35 (Danny Toala 2, Mason Emerson 2 tries, penalty try; Lincoln McClutchie four conversions) Taranaki 17 (Jayson Potroz, Heiden Bedwell Curtis tries; Potroz conversion, Stephen Perofeta conversions & penalty)