Manawatu came within a whisker of spoiling a special occasion for Hawke's Bay rugby before the hosts emerged 35-30 winners of a rousing Air NZ Cup match in Napier tonight.
In a match where the lead changed hands seven times, Hawke's Bay eventually sealed it five minutes from the end when star winger Zac Guildford plunged over for his third try.
It was the team's fourth, providing them with a bonus point win which maintains their charge for a semifinal berth. They are guaranteed to at least hold onto fourth place by the end of week nine.
While it was Hawke's Bay's third straight win, an injury-plagued Manawatu slumped to a fifth successive defeat to virtually end their playoff hopes.
Yet they could easily have ruined the party at McLean Park, where a large crowd were on hand for the game which marked the 125th anniversary for the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union.
They led 14-3 inside 18 minutes through early tries to No 8 Brent Thompson and centre Tomasi Cama.
They trailed 14-18 at halftime but were in front at various stages in the second spell through some sharp goalkicking from first five-eighth Isaac Thompson and their third and final try by fullback Kurt Baker -- a superb chip-chase effort to beat opposite Israel Dagg.
However, all they had to show was a bonus point courtesy of a penalty after the hooter to Isaac Thompson, wearing the No 10 jersey in place of the injured Aaron Cruden.
It was a double inside two minutes to in-form winger Guildford that got the wheels rolling midway through the first half on a difficult night for Hawke's Bay.
Aside from impressive rolling mauls, the Hawke's Bay pack struggled for control up front against opponents missing several key players with injury.
Prop Sona Taumalolo burrowed over midway through the second half before Guildford had the final say with his eighth try of the season, the youngster who is bound for the Crusaders next year sending yet another message to the All Blacks selectors.
Hawke's Bay have now won 60 of the 92 meetings of the rivals and haven't lost since 1996.
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