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QBE INSURANCE North Harbour 28 Tasman 21
By Peter White
THERE WERE HARBOUR HEROES all over Trafalgar Park, Nelson on Saturday night after a totally dedicated, physical team effort won a crucial 28-21 victory over the Tasman Makos.
The second half effort in particular was superb, both defensively and attitude-wise, and certainly the best rugby of Harbour’s season with so much riding on the result. A focus on the basics and eliminating the errors that had blighted the earlier games paid off, and although the coaches have plenty of work-ons for the players ahead of Sunday’s home game against Manawatu, there will be a real feeling in the camp that this season’s goals are back on track.
Special mention must go to the Harbour forward pack for a gutsy effort and also to Luke McAlister, who was a giant defensively in the second spell. His All Black class was evident for all to see.
The game was played in torrential rain in the first half, making for slippery conditions, but it was a surprisingly open contest as both teams came to play.
Harbour started well with the wind behind them, driving ahead over seven phases, with loosehead prop James Afoa to the fore. Tasman conceded a penalty which sharp shooter Michael Harris had no problem converting to open the scoring.
But the lead didn’t last long as from the kick-off, the Makos captain Chris Jack powered over after the Harbour defence was cut open by centre Kade Poki. Steve Alfeld slotted from out wide to give the home team a 7-3 lead.
Michael Harris just lost a long range foot race over the Tasman goal line after a clever kick from stand-in captain Chris Smylie, but he made no mistake from 40 metres with a fine kick in the monsoon-like conditions.
Tasman reacted by upping the tempo and they nearly scored again, but a great tackle by reliable fullback Jack McPhee stopped a certain five pointer. But Harbour mucked up the defensive scrum and conceded a penalty, which gave Alfeld an easy chance to spread the lead to 10-6.
With 10 minutes left in the half, Luke McAlister got a rare attacking ball, after a run from No 8 Mat Luamanu, and kicked ahead, forcing a 5 metre scrum with Harbour ball. Luamanu handled the ball twice in the following phases before he crashed over for a vital try. Harris converted and Harbour now had the lead 13-10.
Ken Pisi started another promising move down the right hand touchline but after Tasman coughed the ball up, Harbour hooker James Parson threw a poor pass to Tom Chamberlain and a great chance to extend the lead was wasted.
Right on the halftime hooter, Harris had another chance with the boot from 53 metres but the kick drifted wide. No matter as Harbour had the halftime lead for the first time this season and would have been pleased with how the last 15 minutes of the first spell had gone.
Tasman lost key loosie Jonathan Poff at halftime with an injury and began the second half by gifting Harbour a penalty from an early lineout, but Harris hit the outside of the post from a good angle. A minute later Harris was in the action again as he cut through the Tasman defence but his loose pass could not find the unmarked Nafi Tuitavaki.
Harris made another sharp break but unfortunately for Harbour he again was unable to link up with Tuitavake, but the ease with how he was cutting the line was promising for Harbour.
Missed first time tackles have been a problem for Harbour all season and a miss on Poki proved costly after 52 minutes, as James Marshall made them pay with a try by the posts. Harbour now trailed 15-13 but kept their composure to grind their way back on top.
Harris was proving to be a dominant figure in the match, as Harbour began to dominate field position into the wind. He missed a tough penalty attempt from 48 metres near touch, but made no mistake after 60 minutes to put Harbour back in front 16-15.
A dubious high tackle call on Luamanu cost Harbour as Alfed put the Makos back in front again with 10 minutes left to play. But the home side’s hopes of closing out the game were dashed as Harbour scored two brilliant tries in two minutes to win the game.
First a virtuoso individual effort from Tuitavake – even better than last week’s – came after Anthony Boric and Jack Tarrant had set the play up well. Harris slotted from the chalk to give Harbour a crucial lead before the experienced Tarrant showed good wet weather skills, and a calm temperament, to score after McAlister won a crucial turnover.
Harbour were back in front 28-18 and absolutely desperate to hold on for an absolutely vital win. They flew into their defensive work like men possessed, making a succession of big hits. Tasman finished with a successful penalty attempt to gain a bonus point but it was all Harbour smiles at the final whistle for a fine victory and a possible season-defining moment.
QBE INSURANCE North Harbour 28 (Mat Luamanu, Nafi Tuitavake, Jack Tarrant tries; Michael Harris 2 con, 3 pens) Tasman 21 (Chris Jack, James Marshall tries; Steve Alfed con, 3 pen).
Halftime: 13-10 Harbour.