The ITM Cup Championship Final was one of the games of the season, a perfect finale to the competition’s second tier, as Tasman won promotion after a nail-biting 26-25 victory over Hawke’s Bay at Trafalgar Park on Friday night.
One of the season’s standout players, Ihaia West, had the chance to seal the trophy for Hawke’s Bay with a touchline conversion, after a late try from substitute scrum-half Chris Eaton, but the fly half drifted wide of the mark.
Tasman’s tough, gritty victory was built on solid defence, fronted by the forwards on the day, combined with a superb performance from fly-half Marty Banks who landed 16 points in the game.
As the Trafalgar Park lights glared into life and the final game of the ITM Cup Championship got underway, it was Hawke’s Bay who started the stronger, with All Black wing, Zac Guildford crossing over the whitewash with just two minutes gone on the clock.
The early Bay try seemed to spring Tasman into life, however, and they dominated from then on.
They turned things around to score three first half tries through Bryce Heem, Liam Squire and Marty Banks, with just one West penalty in reply.
As the sides returned from the break, it was Hawke’s Bay that struck first. A brilliant offload from Richard Buckman sent flanker Brendan O’Connor over the line. West managed to convert the try and cut the gap to just six points, perfectly setting the stage for a thrilling culmination of the ITM Cup Championship final.
Both fly halves then traded penalties, before Eaton was sent sliding over in the corner after powerful surges from replacement Trent Boswell-Wakefield and O’Connor.
However, it was West, who had had a superb game to that point, who could not convert, sending the cup and promotion into the ITM Premiership to Tasman.
Talking Rugby Union’s New Zealand correspondent, Scotty Donaldson admitted that “both of these teams would be competitive in the ITM Cup Premiership in 2014, but unfortunately for the Magpies, West's miss may not only cost the Magpies promotion and the ITM Cup Championship title, but it may prove why he has potentially missed out on a Super Rugby contract in New Zealand…”
After the game West finished the ITM Cup Competition with a resounding 169 points to his name, just one point off the joint leaders Marty Banks and Hayden Parker who finished on 170.
It just goes to show how costly that final two point conversion really was.
Tries: Heem, Squire, Banks
Pens: Banks 2
For Hawke's Bay:
Tries: Guildford, O'Connor, Eaton
Cons: West 2
Pens: West 2
Tasman: 15 James Lowe, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 Mitchell Scott, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (capt), 6 Gary Redmond, 5 Joseph Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Tim Perry
Replacements: 16 Francis Smith, 17 Siua Halanukonuka, 18 Tevita Cavubati, 19 Vernon Fredericks, 20 Mark Swanepoel, 21 Andy Symons, 22 Robbie Malneck
Hawke's Bay: 15 Zac Guildford, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Richard Buckman, 12 Andrew Bradley, 11 Penikoko Latu, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Karl Lowe, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Mike Coman (capt), 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Michael Allardyce, 3 Brendon Edmonds, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Max Lahiff
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Adrian Barone, 18 Trent Boswell-Wakefield, 19 Tony Lamborn, 20 Chris Eaton, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Mikey Vuicacau