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By Peter White
QBE INSURANCE North Harbour played some scintillating rugby in the second spell to outpace a gallant Tasman team by 39-15 in glorious conditions on Tuesday night at North Harbour Stadium.
Tasman led 15-6 at the break as Harbour took a while to get into the game and turned over too much possession. ‘Respect the ball’ was the halftime message from coach Liam Barry and on the back of an impressive set piece, confidence spread through the Harbour unit. In front of a healthy crowd over 6000 they turned on the razzle dazzle to shut Tasman out completely in the final stanza.
The Harbour players wore their club socks as a symbol of the importance of clubs and grassroots rugby as the foundation of the union. It was tremendous to see so many young people at the game and is a good indicator for the rest of the home programme.
There was plenty of early enterprise with both teams keen to run the ball in the excellent conditions. Tasman second-five Andrew Goodman opened the scoring with a penalty after four minutes before Harbour captain Chris Smylie made a tremendous covering tackle to stop Tasman winger Scott Mitchell from scoring as the visitors enjoyed some solid territory.
Tasman bombed a certain try after 18 minutes when winger Mitchell cut through but his pass went into touch near the Harbour line with a two man overlap.
Harbour struggled to keep hold of the ball through the first spell and a turnover proved costly after 29 minutes when they lost the ball near halfway. From the next attack a slashing break by Tasman winger Lucky Mulipola, through a hole created after a clear obstruction, put fullback Robbie Malneek in for the first try. Goodman converted for a 10-0 lead after 29 minutes.
Ben Botica landed a fine goal from 42 metres to get Harbour on the board as Harbour started to dominate the last 10 minutes of the half. Fullback Willie Walker put Harbour on attack with a good kick and chase, followed up by some good support from captain Smylie and Ken Pisi which nearly ended with winger David Raikuna scoring in the left corner.
Harbour’s pressure finally paid off with Tasman penalised in kicking range and Botica made no mistake to close the gap to 10-6 just on halftime. Malneek then shocked the home crowd when he broke through the Harbour defence, passed to winger Mitchell who set No 8 Mark Bright in for a fine try as the halftime siren sounded. Goodman’s conversion hit the post but Tasman had the lead 15-6 at the break.
Harbour opened the half and brought the big home crowd to their feet with a tremendous team try, featuring numerous phases and involving most of the players, which was finished off by barnstorming No 8 Mat Luamanu. Botica kicked the conversion to close the gap to 15-13 but Harbour had grabbed the initiative.
Rudi Wulf looked likely out wide but the move faded as referee Ben Skeen awarded Harbour an attacking penalty. Smylie went for the lineout option five metres out but with a try in the offering Harbour knocked on as the evening dew began to make an impact.
It was not costly though as a minute later big Mat Luamanu was in again, showing how he is impossible to stop short of the line. Botica slotted superbly to give Harbour the lead 20-15 after 52 minutes.
A great punt from the increasingly influential first-five Botica put Harbour back on attack and they turned over Tasman’s lineout ball. Three phases later NZ Sevens winger Raikuna danced a jig down the touchline to finish brilliantly in the left corner. Botica missed from the touchline but Harbour were looking good 25-15 ahead.
Ken Pisi’s brothers, and former Harbour stars, Tusi and George were in the Samoan team that beat Australia on the weekend and Ken showed his own unique talent and lightening pace when he took a smart Botica in-pass and scampered away for a brilliant try after 59 minutes. Botica added the extras for a 32-15 lead.
Tasman fought back but were held up over Harbour’s line. Harbour broke out with a sizzling break down the touchline from Pisi and Botica, with a fine first touch for replacement Irwin Finau.
Harbour didn’t score from that move but did in the last few seconds through replacement hooker Manu Leiataua at the end of a typical flowing movement. Botica finished off the 39-15 victory with another great conversion to seal Harbour’s first win in the ITM Championship.
Next stop Mt Maunganui and the Bay of Plenty Steamers on Saturday.
North Harbour 39 (M Luamanu 2, D Raikuna, K Pisi, M Leiataua tries; B Botica 4 cons, 2 pens)
Tasman 15 (R Malneek, M Bright tries; A Goodman con, pen)
Halftime: 15-6 Tasman