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QBE Insurance North Harbour 29 Bay of Plenty 39
By Peter White
INCONSISTENCY cost QBE Insurance North Harbour dearly as they played plenty of good rugby but eventually could not contain a resurgent Bay of Plenty side in this vital round 5 ITM Cup clash played at the Rotorua International Stadium on Sunday.
There was not much between the teams in the final statistical analysis but too much dropped ball and some defensive inefficiencies cost Harbour dearly against a much improved Steamers team.
Before the game, a bizarre incident happened which left Harbour’s reserve flanker Matt Luamanu with a chipped tooth after one of the crossbars fell on him during the pre-game warm up. The incident caused a 10 minute delay to the kick off and it turned out to be a bad omen as Harbour missed the opportunity to move just one point off the top seven had they won. Instead they are now 11th on the ITM Cup table and desperately need to get back in the winner’s circle next Saturday night at home against Waikato.
Bay of Plenty welcomed back 2009 All Black first-five Mike Delany for his first start of the campaign and the talented playmaker played a key role for the Steamers, sparking them into form after two recent poor performances.
Harbour halfback Chris Smylie, who along with Luke McAlister was the pick of the Harbour players, opened the game with a blistering break 40 metres up the field but lacked support and the chance was lost. Delany and McAlister missed early kicks at goal, with McAlister’s effort from 56 metres causing a stir in the crowd as he struck it superbly only to see the ball drift left of the posts.
Both teams spilled plenty of ball in a messy opening 13 minutes before Bay of Plenty second-five Phil Burleigh split Harbour’s midfield defence open wide to score the opening try.
Harbour’s tighthead prop Ben Afeaki was injured in a nasty head clash with Bay lock Luke Andrews and stayed down for a long time before rejoining the physical confrontation up front.
Harbour were held in their own 22 and eventually the Bay’s superiority paid off when Luke Braid scrambled over after another break from Burleigh. Delany hit the post with the conversion but at 10-0 down Harbour needed to get on the scoreboard. They did it immediately - and in some style - when Jack Tarrant finished well after the impressive McAlister featured twice in the movement.
McAlister slotted the goal to close the gap to 10-7 but from the kick off Harbour conceded a penalty at the tackle ball and with his fourth attempt Delany stretched Bay’s lead to 13-7.
Harbour coach Craig Dowd made an early change after 28 minutes replacing second-five Brendon Watt with Michael Harris, who went into the crucial pivot position and McAlister to 12.
The Bay stormed further ahead with a superb long range try set up by centre Brett Mather and finished in the corner by Luke Hamilton. Delany’s fine kick put the Steamers up 20-7 leaving Harbour desperately needing to get hold of the ball and retain possession.
Harbour’s injury woes continued with Ken Pisi replaced on the left wing by NZ Sevens player Nafi Tuitavake, but they stormed back into the game with a great try begun well inside their half and involving most of the players in multiple phases. All Blacks’ lock Anthony Boric finished it off with a determined crash at the line to give Bay of Plenty the halftime lead of 20-12.
To add to the drama referee Sean Elliott cried off at halftime with a calf injury and was replaced by Bryce Lawrence.
Replacement flanker Matt Luamanu started the second half and put a huge hit on Bay captain Colin Burke to set up an early penalty chance for Michael Harris, but he missed from a handy angle. Harbour hooker James Parson then made a sharp burst up the middle of the park to get Harbour roaring onto attack. Tom Chamberlain added his skills before a clever McAlister cross kick was batted back by Tuitavake for Parsons to score after the fourth official checked the grounding.
Harris converted from the chalk to leave the Bay ahead by just 20-19 but it was the Steamers who scored the crucial fourth try only minutes later when Lelia Masaga crossed out wide.
Harris closed the gap to 25-22 with a simple penalty but Harbour’s hopes suffered a setback when Masaga slid over for a double. Delany kicked the extras as rain set in to increase the Steamers’ lead to 32-22 and the Steamers closed out the victory when Masaga was in again for his hat trick after Harbour tried to chase the game in the slippery conditions.
Down 39-22, Harbour showed plenty of spirit to chase their fourth try and an important bonus point and were duly rewarded when after some solid build up work, Tuitavake showed what a dangerous runner he is to score a fine try. Harris knocked over the conversion and Harbour had another crack as the hooter sounded but the game ended with Bay of Plenty the winners.
BAY OF PLENTY 39
(Lelia Masaga 3, Phil Burleigh, Luke Braid, Lance Hamilton tries; Mike Delany 3 cons, pen)
QBE INSURANCE NORTH HARBOUR 29
(Jack Tarrant, Anthony Boric, James Parsons, Nafi Tuitavake tries; Luke McAlister con; Michael Harris 2 cons, pen)