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ITM Cup round 3, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, Friday August 13.
By Peter White
Canterbury began the game red hot favourites – their pre-match TAB price of $1.12 to win head-to-head against Harbour’s $5.50 was unusually wide between two top teams.
Harbour had first use of a brisk breeze in the first half but an early penalty for off side against their backline, whistled by Auckland heart surgeon Jonathon White, was converted by Colin Slade.
Early nerves from both teams saw set piece possession turned over before Harbour put some quality phases together which ended in a penalty Michael Harris kicked to tie the scores up at 3-3.
Harris then stretched the lead for Harbour to 10-3 when he capitalised on a fumble by Canterbury winger Sean Maitland, and good pressure from Harbour winger Josh York, to score out wide.
Canterbury replied immediately after Isaac Ross won the kick off superbly to set up a smart move which was finished in the corner by Sam Monaghan.
All Blacks hooker Corey Flynn stupidly late charged Harris after 18 minutes but escaped a yellow card and Harbour were unable to make use of the attacking lineout possession. Canterbury’s blindside flanker Matt Todd then cashed in on some defensive errors from Harbour under pressure to score in the corner. Slade slotted the conversion to give Canterbury the lead 15-10.
Harbour struggled to get their hands on the ball and spent most of the half defending until with five minutes left in the half, hooker James Parsons intercepted and found himself in the clear but couldn’t link up with his team mates. Canterbury took the turnover and after some attacking phases down the right touchline, centre Robbie Fruean finally finished off the weight of possession to score Canterbury’s third try. Slade added the extras for a useful 22-10 lead at the break with Harbour needing to score first in the second half to get back into the match.
Brendon Watt replaced winger Alipate Fatafehi at the break to try and shore up Harbour’s left-sided defensive area.
Harris had a difficult 45-metre kick across the breeze to open the second spell but left it short. Canterbury’s tighthead prop sparked a minor scuffle with his opposite Ben Afeaki and was penalised and warned by referee White. But it didn’t bother Canterbury though as ex-All Black Isaac Ross cut through and passed well to NZ under-20 winger Telusa Veainu for the bonus point try.
Down 27-10, Harbour put together an impressive rolling maul from 30 metres out but with the line beckoning the ball was turned over with Ross standing well offside. Canterbury typically stormed back, retaining possession well, but Harbour’s resolute defensive line held until the muscular Fruean capitalised on more turned over ball to score his second try with 15 minutes left to play.
Luke McAlister was starved of attacking opportunities but showed his class with two splendid touches in one movement to give Jack Tarrant space to score near the posts. Replacement first-five Ben Botica converted to make it 32-17 with 10 minutes left to run in the match.
Botica then ran 80 metres on a brilliant individual run to showcase his talent but he put his foot on the line in the act of scoring to wipe out what would have been one of the tries of the season. Matt Luamanu went close to scoring for Harbour before eventually Josh York crossed for Harbour’s third try.
Harbour went chasing the bonus point fourth try but in the end Canterbury had the last say when Ross crashed over. Fruean finished the game with his third try in the final minute to complete the 44-22 victory for the home team.
Fullback Jack McPhee had a fine game for Harbour in difficult conditions but had to attack from too deep in his own half. Anthony Boric warmed up for a trip to South Africa with the All Blacks tomorrow morning with a solid effort in his 50th game for Harbour. He and Blues lock Filo Paulo struggled at lineout time in combination with hookers James Parsons and Mike Mayhew, but along with the impressive James King (on for Paulo after 46 minutes) give Harbour tremendous depth in the second row.
Harbour will look to get back on their winning way when they host Otago at North Harbour Stadium on Thursday night.
Canterbury 44 (Robbie Fruean 3, Sam Monaghan, Matt Todd, Telusa Veainu, Isaac Ross tries; Colin Slade 3 cons, pen)
North Harbour 22 (Michael Harris, Jack Tarrant, Josh York tries; Harris con, pen; Ben Botica con)