Manawatu and Hawke's Bay remain on track to meet in provincial rugby's championship final, where the winner will gain automatic promotion to the top-tier premiership.
Both are tied on 24 points, well clear of third-placed Otago, with three games left to play. The Turbos were deserved 31-25 winners over Wellington in the latest round, while the Magpies had an emphatic 32-13 victory over Bay of Plenty.
While Hawke's Bay were always favoured to gain promotion, Manawatu were predicted by many to finish last in the championship.
Turbos coach Dave Rennie said the belief within his team was always somewhat different and Saturday's win over the Lions leaves them well placed to silence the numerous doubters.
In doing so, the incoming Chiefs coach would also like to see his players get more recognition at Super Rugby level.
"I've got a couple of them coming up to Hamilton with me, but there's only so many places around. Hopefully they can get an opportunity to play within the Hurricanes [franchise]," Rennie said.
"There's a number of guys that are playing bloody good footy for us and I guess that's Hammer's [Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett] challenge to have a look."
Whatever happens, there is already immense satisfaction within the Manawatu camp at what's been achieved this season, which includes beating Hurricanes' franchise partners Wellington, Taranaki and Hawke's Bay.
"It's pleasing because we've never had a pot of gold or anything, so we've put a lot of emphasis on development," said Rennie.
"Only three of the guys in our squad don't originate from our area so it's great from our young kids' point of view [that] they can see there's opportunities, and our supporters see a lot of local guys they've seen play as kids.
"So there's a real association with the jersey – so great for the community and certainly great for our players. I'm rapt for them."
Local schoolboy talent was at the heart of Hawke's Bay's win in Rotorua, where All Blacks outside backs Zac Guildford and Israel Dagg contributed three of their team's four tries. The match was Dagg's first since suffering a leg injury during the Crusaders Super Rugby campaign.
Waikato's 25-10 win, in yesterday's late game against Otago, means they lead the premiership standings by one point from Taranaki. The latter were 26-23 winners against Tasman, on Friday.
Elsewhere, Southland came up with a last-gasp try to retain the Ranfurly Shield, beating North Harbour 25-23, and Canterbury toppled Northland 28-13.
- The Dominion Post
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