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By Peter White
QBE INSURANCE North Harbour crashed to a resounding 39-10 defeat at the hands of a determined Hawke’s Bay side at North Harbour Stadium on Thursday night.
The perfect conditions enjoyed on the North Shore all day unfortunately evaporated into heavy rain at kick-off, leaving the excellent surface greasy on top. Harbour had won seven of the 11 matches between the two unions, but ominously Hawke’s Bay had won the last three and came to North Harbour Stadium fired up after two wins from their three games in the ITM Championship.
Of most concern from the defeat must be the lack of defensive clout and attitude shown by Harbour. For the fourth straight game they struggled to gain any early ascendency with defensive frailties and too much turned-over ball proving costly.
The lineout was one positive for Harbour with James King superb in winning an excellent flow of possession, and with Ben Afeaki in destructive form Harbour’s scrum was again highly competitive. Sam Hayes-Stevenson had a solid starting debut at openside flanker and has all the skills to be a contender in the No 7 jersey in the future.
The early exchanges were scrappy with Harbour holding an edge in territory thanks to some astute tactical kicking from veteran first-five Willie Walker, but they lacked any attacking bite. Harbour winger Ken Pisi created the game’s first clear opening after 10 minutes with a clever kick and chase into Hawke’s Bay’s 22 but the key infield pass was spilt with a try beckoning.
Sadly prop Michael Reid’s unlucky run of injuries continued with what could be a recurrence of his serious foot injury and he was replaced by James Afoa after just 12 minutes.
Tighthead prop ‘Bigs’ Afeaki, who had a thunderous game around the park and dominated the scrums, caused a shudder in the Hawke’s Bay defence when he turned up at centre and crashed onto the ball at full pace but again nothing came from the play.
The opening try came from another Hawke’s Bay attack down Harbour’s right flank. Second-five Andrew Horrell fed fullback Richard Buckman (with a clear forward pass) and centre Tua Saseve scored. Horrell converted from out wide to give the Bay a 7-0 lead.
The try kicked Hawke’s Bay into life and they made another dangerous raid down the right touchline, which led to a simple penalty goal for Horrell to stretch the lead to 10-0 after 24 minutes.
Nafi Tuitavake, Mat Luamanu and David Raikuna all contributed to a sparkling Harbour move after 32 minutes which resulted in an attacking penalty. Harbour took the lineout and attacked again before another Hawke’s Bay penalty was conceded. Walker kicked the goal to make it 10-3 but it seemed an opportunity for more points had gone begging.
Harbour’s poor first half ended with Hawke’s Bay crashing over their line through prop Sona Taumalolo after the final hooter. The try was eventually awarded by the video referee. Horrell converted to give the visitors a 17-3 advantage at halftime.
Gillies Kaka produced some brilliant skills to put Harbour under some early pressure in the second spell. Raikuna rescued the situation with a brave run but Harbour conceded a penalty in front of the posts - Hawke’s Bay 20-3.
Tu Umaga-Marshall then skipped through some weak Harbour defence after 55 minutes to add insult to injury. Horrell’s conversion stretched Hawke’s Bay’s lead to 27-3.
Some goal line bumbles saved Harbour as Hawke’s Bay dominated territory and attacked Harbour’s line at will until finally the passes stuck and Kaka crossed out wide after 66 minutes. Horrell missed his first kick of the night but the Bay were well ahead 32-3.
Replacement hooker Hikairo Forbes added another try before the end and in a bright moment for Harbour, Luamanu crashed over for his fifth try of the season. The big No 8 is the top try scorer in the ITM Cup but there was very little else to commend Harbour’s night.
Hawke’s Bay 39 (T Saseve, S Taumalolo, T Umaga-Marshall, G Kaka, H Forbes tries; A Horrell 4 cons, 2 pens)
North Harbour 10 (M Luamanu try; B Botica con, W Walker pen)