Lincoln McClutchie in action against Southland at McLean Park last year. Photo / NZME
The Trojan horse of the 2023 Hawke’s Bay Magpies’ season is zeroing-in on two milestones as the side head for Saturday’s match against former Bay-rugby nemesis Southland in Invercargill.
First five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie heads the Bunnings NPC points-scoring race for the season, just eight points shy of a century and retained as the only player to make the starting 15 in what will be all nine games.
Aged 24 and named for 60th game in the Magpies jersey since his debut six years ago, he has scored 421 points, just two short of fifth place on the list of top scorers in 140 years of Hawke’s Bay senior representative rugby, the 423 points scored by Matt Berquist from 2006 to 2014, and another 10 will take him to No 4.
In the NPC it’s his fourth year in the top 10 points scorers, with 57 in 2020, 77 in 2021 and 97 last year, but a first century will be far from what it’s all about for the pivotal No 10 as the Magpies take to Invercargill’s Rugby Park, significant as the southernmost first-class rugby venue in the world, but as a venue that used to send shivers up the spines of Hawke’s Bay rugby and the Magpies’ supporters.
Rather, his focus will be on the role the networks perform in a match where securing the win will guarantee the Magpies a place in the top eight for the playoffs, with still the slightest sniff of a home playoff should the Magpies beat Wellington in the capital seven days later.
On a trip almost feared by some Magpies sides of the past, the 2023 team start as favourites, with five wins for the season and Stags fans still baying for a first, form which is acknowledged by the TAB starting the travellers at $1.25 to win – Southland are at $3.80.
There’s also the Magpies’ return to winning form with a 57-5 win over Manawatū in Napier last Friday, and their recent history against Southland – Hawke’s Bay’s 69-24 win in Napier last year.
That could be taken with a grain of salt given the next-most-recent result, Southland’s 16-10 win in Invercargill in 2020, when within another three weeks the Magpies had taken the Ranfurly Shield off Otago in Dunedin and back at home scored Hawke’s Bay’s first win over Canterbury in almost 40 years. At the time they were well on the way to promotion to the Premiership by winning the Championship final.
But despite a history of perceived capitulation in the south, the Magpies have won four of their last five games against Southland in Invercargill.
From the starting line-up against Manawatu, coach Brock James has retained the starting 10 from the front row to first five-eighths, but has utility Chase Tiatia coming in at second five-eighths and Lolagi Visinia at fullback.
While they’re focused on trying to get a bonus-point win in Invercargill, the Magpies’ chances of a top-four placing would be enhanced if third-placed Tasman were beaten this weekend by No 2 side Canterbury in Christchurch and if No 4 side Taranaki beat fifth-ranked Auckland in New Plymouth.
Meanwhile, Wellington – unbeaten this season – are warm favourites to successfully defend the Ranfurly Shield against North Harbour, and if they’re successful the Magpies will head to the capital with both a Shield challenge and competition points in mind, and revenge for the loss of the Log o’ Wood to Wellington last year.
The Hawke’s Bay Magpies team for the NPC rugby match against Southland Stags in Invercargill on Saturday, starting at 2.05pm:
1 Pouri Rakete Stones
2 Tyrone Thompson
3, Joel Hintz
4 Geoff Cridge
5 Tom Parsons (captain)
6 Josh Kaifa
7 Sam Smith
8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u
9 Brad Weber
10 Lincoln McClutchie
11 Jonah Lowe
12 Chase Tiatia
13 Nick Grigg
14 Ollie Sapsford
15 Lolagi Visinia.
Subs: 16 Kianu Kereru Symes, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Bo Abra, 19 Frank Lochore, 20 Devan Flanders, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Caleb Makene, 23 Paula Balekana.