At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton: Waikato 32 (Bailyn Sullivan try, D’Angelo Leuila try, James Tucker try, Danny Sinkinson try, Damian McKeznie 2 pens, 3 cons) Hawke’s Bay 32 (Isaia Walker-Leawere try, Brad Weber try, Danny Toala try, Tom Parsons try, Caleb Makene 3 cons, 2 pen).HT: 24-20. FT: 32-32. ET: 32-32
All Blacks playmaker Damian McKenzie won’t forget his return to provincial rugby in a hurry after he missed three chances to seal victory for Waikato in a wild 32-32 draw with Hawke’s Bay in Hamilton.
On Liam Messam’s 100th game for the province, McKenzie missed a penalty with three minutes remaining as an end-to-end match at Waikato Stadium went to golden point extra time.
The 27-year-old then had another chance to secure a hard-fought win for the defending champions in extra time when a Hawke’s Bay player was penalised for not rolling away as the Mooloos pushed for a match-winning try.
But once again a rusty McKenzie got his angles all wrong and sent his attempt wide of the upright, before squandering a presentable drop goal opportunity moments later as the Magpies clung on for a deserved draw.
McKenzie did make a try saving tackle on Caleb Makene a few minutes earlier to ensure that Waikato avoided defeat in their season opener, but will no doubt rue his inaccuracy off the tee, going 5/8.
The result means the teams share the points after a breathless encounter that produced 62 points and some high-quality attacking rugby.
Despite trailing 10-0 after only nine minutes thanks to an Isaia Walker-Leawere try and a Makene penalty, Waikato fought back with three tries of their own to lead 24-20 at the break.
After a long-range penalty from McKenzie put Waikato on the scoreboard, Bailyn Sullivan scored the hosts’ first try when he crashed over from close range on 19 minutes after a sustained period of pressure.
Unwanted All Blacks halfback Brad Weber then restored the Magpies advantage, only for D’Angelo Leuila to hit back almost immediately three minutes later.
James Tucker then shrugged off a tackle to score his 10th career try after some good work from Messam to put Waikato ahead for the first time on 32 minutes, with a Makene penalty just before the break reducing the deficit to four points.
The Magpies started the second half on the front foot and a high tackle from Luke Jacobson on Weber gave the visitors a chance to go ahead. Danny Toala spotted a gap and dived over from close range, with Makene adding the extras.
But their lead lasted a matter of seconds as Waikato went straight up the other end and restored their advantage, Danny Sinkinson finishing off a sweeping move from left to right in the corner.
Jacobson was later sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes when he swatted the ball out of Weber’s grasp while grounded, and the Magpies made their numerical advantage count when captain went over with 10 minutes to go.
It set up a dramatic finale, but neither side could find the match-winning score as they shared the spoils.
Counties Manukau v Otago
A drop goal from Riley Hohepa right at the death gave Counties Manukau a dramatic 23-22 win over Otago in a thrilling NPC encounter at Pukekohe.
The Steelers largely dominated the opening period and deservedly led 10-7 at the break thanks to a converted Zuriel Togiatama try and a Hohepa penalty.
But they were made to pay for their wastefulness when the southerners came out firing in the second half and swiftly turned the game on its head through a Josh Ioane penalty and two quickfire tries from returning wing Jona Nareki.
Leading 22-13 with 10 minutes to play, Otago looked poised to take the points back to Dunedin, until replacement fullback and debutant Esau Filimoehala collected a floated Hohepa pass out wide, sidestepped a couple of challenges to drive over and set up a grandstand finish.
And then the man of the moment capped off a fine individual display with a drop goal in the dying seconds after the home side went through 21 attacking phases against a desperate Otago defence.
Auckland v North Harbour
A three-try burst in seven minutes early in the second half sealed a come-from-behind 36-26 win for Auckland over North Harbour at Eden Park.
Harbour led 21-15 at halftime and extended to 26-15 with a superb try to wing Mark Telea.
But when Harbour prop Nic Mayhew was sinbinned for coming in from the side and collapsing a maul on the line, not only did he concede a penalty try but the hosts followed with two further tries in quick succession – fullback Zarn Sullivan finished his own break and they crossed from another lineout maul – to score 21 points in seven minutes.
That ended the scoring as Auckland denied Harbour even a bonus point.