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QBE Insurance North Harbour 21 Hawke's Bay 36
By Peter White
ALL SEASON NORTH HARBOUR have mixed moments of composure, accurate phase play and sparkling attack, with a total lack of rugby smarts and poor concentration on defence. To the obvious frustration of the coaching staff and the fans, it was more of the same against Hawke’s Bay as Harbour blew a promising early lead to be well beaten in the end.
On a memorable weekend which saw the return of the old fashioned front row punch up (BOP v Southland), and a hideous broken leg to All Black Piri Weepu, this game played in fine conditions in Napier on Sunday afternoon was difficult to predict.
Both Hawke’s Bay and Harbour had no chance of qualifying for the Premiership (top seven) next year, but with Super 15 spots up for grabs and provincial rivalry at stake, the game still had plenty of intensity.
Harbour’s Michael Harris, who confirmed this week he is joining the Queensland Reds next year, kicked off into a brisk breeze. Harbour immediately went on attack with some well organised phases featuring standout No 8 Mathew Luamanu leading to a penalty.
Harris easily kicked the goal to open the scoring, bringing up 100 points for the season and continuing his outstanding season average of 80%.
Harbour’s superb start continued with some tremendous interplay between the backs and forwards finished off in the corner with a try to captain Chris Smylie. Harris slotted from the touchline and then landed a fine penalty from 44 metres into the wind to put Harbour 13-0 ahead after 14 minutes.
Hawke’s Bay conceded their fifth penalty at the tackle/ruck situation to give Harbour another attacking chance. Luamanu, Smylie and Jack Tarrant featured strongly but Filo Paulo was pushed out in the corner.
After another infringement by the home team, referee Keith Brown lost patience and sent the battered and bloodied No 8 Michael Coman to the sin bin for 10 minutes. Harris slotted the easy kick for a handy 16-0 lead but that was the end of the highlights reel for Harbour.
Hawke’s Bay star Zac Guildford, at fullback in his 50th appearance for the Magpies, got the home team rolling, finishing off a fine movement instigated by first-five Kahn Fotualii. Winger Richard Buckman converted, and a minute later missed a simple penalty, to leave Harbour ahead 16-7 as Hawke’s Bay began to ask plenty of the Harbour defensive line.
One hit on Jason Shoemark by Nafi Tuitavake was a try stopper but an inability to clear their line and missed tackles cost Harbour dearly with three minutes to go, when flanker Michael Johnson crashed over to score. Buckman converted to give Harbour a slender 16-14 lead as the halftime siren sounded.
Harbour’s start to the half could not have been worse. They made a botch of taking the kick-off to open up a chance for Hawke’s Bay, who needed no second invitation to score immediately through Coman.
Hawke’s Bay nearly were in again from the restart through Fotualii, after Harbour first kicked the ball away with a poor chip kick, (so costly last week), and lost concentration as their defensive line collapsed. Harbour then showed some resilience as they defended 17 phases, with flanker Tom Chamberlain outstanding, and recycled the ball to gain a vital reprieve.
Harbour lock James King came on after 50 minutes (replacing Paulo) and immediately late tackled Guildford to concede a penalty. From the resulting drive for the Harbour line, referee Brown penalised Harbour again and this time Buckman goaled to extend the lead to 22-16.
The momentum was all with the Magpies now and they threw wave after wave of attacking raids at the Harbour line. Midfielder Ryan McLeod eventually crashed over as the score blew out to 29-16, and they nearly scored again directly from the kick off but were pushed out near the Harbour line.
Harbour’s captain Smylie was replaced by Grayson Hart with 20 minutes left, with Anthony Boric taking over the arm band. Harris kicked dead from 20 metres from his own line to set up a great attacking option for the home side, but this time the Harbour defensive line held firm against nine phases.
Livewire halfback Chris Eaton finished off a sparkling move by Hawke’s Bay to add further insult to injury with six minutes to go.
With the match decided, Harbour did launch a late attack to set up a chance well taken by replacement winger Josh York, but there was to be no happy ending for Harbour as the game finished with another Harbour error.
The Harbour positives to come from the day were the naming of Anthony Boric and Tony Woodcock in the All Blacks’ squad for the northern tour later this month.
Hawke’s Bay 36 (Zac Guildford, Michael Johnson, Peter Coman, Ryan McLeod, Chris Eaton
tries; Richard Buckman 3 cons, pen; Mark Jackman con)
North Harbour 21 (Chris Smylie, Josh York tries; Michael Harris con, 3 pens)
Halftime: 16-14 Harbour