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By Peter White
QBE INSURANCE NORTH HARBOUR 21 SOUTHLAND 47
THE RANFURLY SHIELD was the ultimate goal for North Harbour but their trip to Invercargill produced nothing but further disappointment, as the odd brilliance on attack and solid phase play were overshadowed by a continuation of the unforced errors which have cost the team dearly all season.
Harbour went into the big clash in 11th place on the ITM Cup table but with a far superior historical record over their southern foes since the first encounter in 1987. In 16 games Harbour had 13 wins to Southland’s three, but it was not to be lucky win number 14 as Southland’s battle-hardened forward pack were not in a generous mood to give up the Log of Wood in their fifth defence. Gifted running first-five Robbie Robinson was outstanding and controlled the tempo of the Stags’ attack with the aplomb of a test veteran.
All week long the emphasis at Harbour training has been on set pieces and shoring up the leaky defence which prior to Friday night’s game had conceded 202 points in the ITM Cup – only Manawatu had a worse record.
But the omens were not good from the third minute when Harbour fell off four tackles on second-five Matt Saunders, to allow him to open the scoring and give the defenders a dream start. Harbour looked promising for the next few minutes but poor handling and rushed 50-50 passes, which had plagued them all season, again cost them promising opportunities.
Southland had all the play until the 20th minute when Jack Tarrant slipped a good pass to winger Nafi Tuitavake, who put the classic winger’s inside-out swerve on fullback Glen Horton to sprint away for a superb individual try.
Harris goaled magnificently from the touchline to silence the local crowd of around 10,000 and closed the game up at 7-7. The question now was could Harbour keep their defensive pattern and composure to capitalise on Tuitavake’s brilliant try?
Unfortunately for Harbour, an unforced error two minutes later when hot on attack gave Southland the chance to hack the ball ahead and three phases later, captain Jamie McIntosh dived over in the corner. Robinson converted from the chalk to put the home team ahead 14-7.
Then the crucial moment in the momentum of the game. Jack McPhee sparked a sweeping backline move to set up an attacking scrum right on the Southland line but with the try beckoning, and Southland looking rattled, Chris Smylie and Luke McAlister managed to get in each other’s way and a gilt-edged chance was lost.
At the other end with halftime looming, Southland took advantage of a missed tackle to scoot away and halfback Scott Cowan took the final pass to score a fine try. Robinson’s conversion stretched the lead to 21-7. Harbour stormed back with 10 phases into injury time only for a lack of composure to again blow a scoring chance.
The second spell could not have started worse for Harbour with Glen Horton scoring just a minute into the half after an 80 metre flowing movement involving many of the big boys up front.
Harbour then burst back into the game with a breakout from inside their own 22, with Luke McAlister, Michael Mayhew and Mat Luamanu combining well, before Harris showed rare speed to slide over. From out wide he converted to give Harbour some hope trailing 26-14.
But just when things were looking up, Kendrick Lynn brushed off Harbour captain Michael Reid’s attempted tackle and easily scored near the posts. Robinson added the extras and at 33-14 the shield holders were comfortably ahead.
Tony Koonwaiyou crossed with 15 minutes left to stretch the lead further after Harbour emptied the reserves bench. Harbour scored late in the piece when Ben Afeaki crashed over and they showed plenty of spirit chasing a bonus point try as the siren sounded. After multiple phases, another Harbour turn over a metre from Southland’s line ended up with Lynn racing away from the fast chasing James King to score his second for the night.
On a tough night for Harbour, Nafi Tuitavaki showed what a class act he is out wide, James King defended well and his lineout work was superb, Jack McPhee’s courage can never be questioned, Michael Harris again showed his running game has improved dramatically to go with his superb goalkicking, while Mat Luamanu’s commitment to the loose ball and running with the ball was top class all night.
But the same defensive and handling errors coaches Dowd and Wilson have worked so hard on eradicating were repeated, which means plenty more hard drills and focus at training ahead of next Saturday’s absolute must win trip to Nelson to play Tasman.
Southland 47 (Kendrick Lynn 2, Matt Saunders, Jamie McIntosh, Scott Cowan, Glen Horton, Tony Koonwaiyou tries; Robbie Robinson 6 cons)
QBE INSURANCE North Harbour 21 (Nafi Tuitavake, Michael Harris, Ben Afeaki tries; Harris 2 cons, Ben Botica con)