Northland can sniff semifinal rugby after bonus-point win over Hawke's Bay
Perennial strugglers Northland have given themselves a solid chance of making the Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinals.
They beat Hawke's Bay 34-7 in their round eight clash at Toll Stadium in Whangarei on Saturday, getting the rewards for daring to take a risk with some of their attacking play.
It didn't always come off, but it did often enough for them to score four tries to one, and pick up their fifth win of the season, and a bonus point to boot.
With a win in the final round, where they play the runaway Championship leaders, Wellington, on Thursday, they will make the semifinals, while they could advance even with a loss, depending on how other matches unfold.
As things stand, they sit second on the ladder, with 25 points from nine games, behind Wellington (37 from eight), and ahead of Bay of Plenty (23 from nine), Manawatū (22 from eight), and Otago (21 from nine).
But with four teams jammed up tight behind Wellington, and only three semifinal places on offer to them, the Taniwha could yet be cruelly denied.
Their first try came just three minutes in, when they won a lineout, following a strong run by Solomon Alaimalo down the left wing. From the throw, 5m out, they shovelled the ball to the right, where flanker Dan Pryor found himself with a massive gap to run into and score.
First-five Peter Breen slotted the conversion, to give his side an early 7-0 lead, but they found themselves in trouble on the quarter-hour mark, when halfback Sam Nock was sent to the sin bin for an intentional foul at a ruck.
Two minutes later, the Magpies struck back, as their first-five Ihaia West played a delicate grubber kick in behind, and found Cardiff Vaega running through, who pounced on the ball to make it 7-all, once West added the extras.
From then to halftime, however, it was all Northland, even while they were a man down.
They marched down the field, and won three penalties in quick succession, but only gained three points for their efforts, as Breen missed from wide on the right, then wide on left - his first shots off target of the season - before finally nailing one located out in front, in the 27th minute.
Ten minutes later, Dan Pryor scored his second, again from a lineout, but this time after a rolling maul, which first went left, then right, before overpowering Hawke's Bay and getting to the line, a wave of Cambridge blue.
As the second half began, Northland held a 10-point lead, 17-7, and after absorbing a bit of pressure, they managed to break through, and extend the margin out to 17, scoring at the end of a move that began with their hooker, Matt Moulds.
Fending off a tackle around the halfway line, he went on a run up the middle of the park, then found centre Rene Ranger on his inside, who ran the rest of the way to get the five-pointer, winding himself in the process.
Hawke's Bay had a chance to hit back in the 70th minute, when Vaega ran on to another kick in behind, this time from further out, but he knocked on as he tried to dot the ball down.
Northland went hunting a fourth try, and a crucial bonus point, as the clock wound down, and they got it with no time to spare, when Tim Bond dived over at the end of a 13-phase attack.
Northland 34 (Dan Pryor 2, Ranger, Bond tries; Breen 2 con, pen, Hawkins 2 con, pen) Hawke's Bay 7 (Vaega try; West con). HT: 17-7