NPC 2021: Second-half surge powers Hawke's Bay to commanding Ranfurly Shield defence against Waikato

An emphatic second-half performance has seen Hawke's Bay streak to a 41-14 win over Waikato to defend the Ranfurly Shield at McLean Park on Saturday.

Trailing by two points at halftime, the Magpies clocked up a 27-0 advantage in the second stanza to runaway with a contest that had earlier suggested a closely contested finish.

The victory ensures the Shield will be locked away safely in Napier over the summer and extends Hawke's Bay's imposing lead atop the Premiership standings - now eight points clear of Wellington courtesy of a six-game win streak.

Despite being stung by the last-second scratching of captain Fletcher Smith, Waikato came out with plenty of purpose, playing with structure and putting a premium on field position in an attempt to stifle Hawke's Bay's arsenal of weapons.

But - led by stand-out pivot Lincoln McClutchie - the Magpies emerged from the sheds with a more patient approach which eventually paid dividends, as they ran in four tries through the final quarter to finish with a hefty - albeit, somewhat flattering - scoreboard margin.

After signing on with Moana Pasifika last week, McClutchie's display may have had some Super Rugby Pacific clubs looking enviously at the new franchise, as the first-five pulled strings expertly, ever-threatening with ball in hand and using his full bag of kicking tricks.

Neria Fomai and Lolagi Visinia were a menace from the back, while flanker Marino Mikaele-Tu'u continued his expectional season with another outstanding effort across the park.

The hosts got off to the ideal start, with hooker Jacob Devery - who's been outstanding since replacing Japan-bound stalwart Ash Dixon, burrowing over in the corner from a five-metre lineout drive in just the second minute.

Waikato's hooker Steven Misa was quick to respond with his own rolling maul from a close-range lineout, crossing for his side's first try to edge ahead.

Six minutes later, Danny Toala was on hand to cash in on a jinking break from Neria Fiomai, sneaking over from a ruck right on the Waikato chalk.

But again, Waikato had a reply, with sparkplug wing Liam Coombes-Fabling running a superb line from an attacking scrum to power over the line and return to the top of the NPC try-scoring standings.

Facing a 14-12 halftime deficit, the Magpies came out with a more stcurctured approach in the second half, looking to establish field position before looking to attack.

After McClutchie had edged his side back in front with a straightforward penalty, he then stepped to the fore with a touch of individual brilliance, dropping a pinpoint crossfield kick right into Fomai's bread basket to score, putting the icing on the cake with a sideline conversion to go eight points clear.

That try sparked a ruthless final quarter from the hosts, with Waikato's woes compounded by a yellow card to lock James Tucker for a dangerous tackle.

Tom Parsons benefited from a stroke of luck to cross next for the Magpies, as a pass rebounded back into his arms with a clear path to crash over the chalk.

Minutes later, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u's deft flick pass sent replacement Ollie Sapsford over out wide, before a scintillating counterattack ended with Fomai streaking 40 metres clear to claim his second try of the night to put the icing on the cake for Hawke's Bay.

In a non-competition game earlier on Saturday, Wellington scored a last-minute try to steal a 24-22 win over Southland.

Hawke's Bay 41 (Neria Fomai 2, Jacob Devery, Danny Toala, Tom Parsons, Ollie Sapsford tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 con, pen) Waikato 14 (Steven Misa, Liam Coombes-Fabling tries; D'Angelo Leuila 2 con). HT: 12-14

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