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By Peter White
AUCKLAND MADE better use of the wind and took their try scoring opportunities to beat a disappointing Harbour team 29-13 in front of 4850 fans in Albany on Sunday afternoon.
The crossover match between Premiership Auckland and Championship Harbour failed to reach any great heights with Harbour again punished for not protecting the ball well enough and for conceding too many easy metres around the ruck. Harbour led 13-8 at the break but were kept scoreless into the wind in the second half.
Harbour certainly started with plenty of early vigour, retaining possession as they attacked Auckland around the ruck fringes with loose forwards Mat Luamanu and Solomon King shining out. Harbour crossed Auckland’s line through James Afoa after a storming break from Ben Afeaki but the try was disallowed as Nafi Tuitavaki had stepped out. Referee Glen Jackson penalised Auckland in the build up and Ben Botica slotted the goal to give Harbour a 3-0 lead after 11 minutes.
Botica had a chance to double the lead but missed from 48 metres before Auckland scored the first try after 18 minutes through No 8 Chris Lowrey after lock Steven Luatua caught Harbour’s defence napping and veteran Brent Ward made a great break.
Auckland conceded six penalties in succession to test referee Jackson’s patience. Botica kicked his second penalty to put Harbour ahead 6-5 after 25 minutes.
Gareth Anscombe put Auckland back in front with an easy penalty after Harbour were caught offside. Just before the break Harbour captain Chris Smylie sparked Harbour into the best attacking phases of the half which ended with replacement lock Irwin Finau crashing over for a fine team try. Botica concerted for a 13-8 lead at halftime and a positive feeling in the Harbour dressing room.
Harbour’s dominant scrum continued on in the second spell, with Afeaki destroying the Auckland front row. Harbour showed plenty of spirit running from their goalline twice in the first five minutes, with Raikuna nearly breaking clear on both occasions.
Auckland fought back well with the stiffening wind behind them and regained the lead with a try to lock Steven Luatua, converted by Anscombe. Isaia Toeava then showed his class to put winger George Moala in for another Auckland try to stretch the lead out to 22-13.
Auckland flanker Sean Polwart crashed over after 64 minutes but the try was disallowed by the TMO. Raikuna made another slashing break to give Harbour some hope but the chance went begging, like so many before today.
Harbour put together their best spell on attack with five minutes left but a dubious turnover against them led to former Rosmini College boy Anscombe scoring the match clincher. He converted from the touchline to make the final score 29-13 to Auckland.
Auckland 29 (C Lowrey, S Luatua, I Toeava, G Anscombe tries; G Anscombe 3 con, pen)
North Harbour 13 (I Finau try; B Botica con, 2 pens)
Halftime: 13-8 Harbour