Hawke's Bay's chances of retaining their national provincial championship Premiership division status suffered a heavy blow when they were upset 20-7 by Manawatu in windy Palmerston North on Saturday.
The match was dominated by the elements, with a freezing wind and heavy rain rendering both backlines virtually redundant.
Hawke's Bay had the wind at their backs in the first half but could only forge a 7-3 lead before being overwhelmed by the committed hosts and the weather in the second spell.
The result leaves Hawke's Bay rooted to the foot of the Premiership and, with their last two games against leaders Canterbury and Ranfurly Shield holders Waikato, they face a mountainous task to pass sixth-placed Bay of Plenty, who sit two points ahead of them.
Added to the Hawke's Bay problem is a growing injury toll.
All Blacks winger Zac Guildford, who returned from injury after five weeks' recovery, was forced off just a minute into the match after pulling his hamstring.
Influential No.8 Mike Coman exited with concussion soon afterwards and halfback Chris Eaton was a second-half casualty.
That shouldn't detract from Manawatu's performance, set up by gritty work into the teeth of the wind in the first half, which was played almost entirely in their own half.
They conceded just one try, to Hawke's Bay fullback Andrew Horrell, and snatched a penalty goal to first five-eighth Nathan George just before the break.
The result was virtually sealed soon after halftime when Manawatu second five-eighth Shaun Curry crossed after supporting a break from fullback Lewis Marshall in one of the game's few fluent movements.
A second George penalty and a converted try to reserve prop David Te Moana pulled Manawatu clear and left them firmly in the hunt for a Championship division semi-final berth.
Their match away to Southland next weekend should dictate which of those two teams joins Counties Manukau, Otago and Tasman in the top four.