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Auckland claim win in derby opener

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Sunday, August 18, 2013    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

The opening ITM Cup match for both sides was played in perfect conditions with a crowd of 5513 watching on. And while there was an early season look to the contest, as Auckland failed to achieve an 80-minute effort while North Harbour made up for early frustration by finishing well.

Expected improvements to scrummaging under the changed laws were not apparent in this contest with repeated resets still occurring.

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu may have been making his debut for Auckland but he looked to the manner born with some impressive forays with the ball in hand and contributory work in the lineouts.

In Gareth Anscombe's absence Simon Hickey looked well equipped at first five-eighths. And blindside flanker Joe Edwards was another to shine, admittedly with the practiced hand of Luke Braid in his debut game for the province to set the example.

While centre Malakai Fekitoa provided a reminder of the excitement package he can be.

North Harbour were not without some redeeming features of their own with hooker James Parsons demonstrating the game battler status that he enjoys. While halfback Brenton Helleur made some dangerous breaks and midfielders Tua Saseve and Pita Akhi look capable of providing value in games ahead, both in attack and on defence.

Auckland fullback Lolagi Visinia showed early positional sense to pop up on the right flank after three minutes of play to score the opening try after an impressive display of continuity from the home side.

Edwards demonstrated his potential with a fine break in midfield to charge downfield and link with his support which, after several pick and goes, resulted in a try by the uprights to halfback Piri Weepu.

Superior combination and support saw Auckland back onto attack immediately after first five-eighths Simon Hickey landed a 23rd minute penalty goal and after several drives at the line it was loosehead prop Sam Prattley who drove through to touch down. Hickey added a superb sideline conversion.

That seemed to rouse North Harbour into action and they enjoyed the best period of the game in the final 10 minutes of the half. They camped in the Auckland 22m area with Helleur, Saseve and Akhi all making potentially valuable breaks.

Their reward came in the 37th minute when captain and hooker James Parsons capitalised on a decision to kick to the corner from a penalty where the lineout was secured and the maul rumbled toward the goal-line where the try was scored.

The third quarter was something of a muddle but once skipper and second five-eighths Hadleigh Parkes seized the initiative by grabbing the ball and charging ahead, Auckland seemed to refind their purpose.

While not as tidy as they had been in the first half, the maintained sufficient control to create a chance out wide in the 57th minute. Centre Malakai Fekitoa was fed ball as he raced to the short side and when pulled down as he attempted to round the cover, it was Luke Braid who was on hand to pick up and dive over for the bonus point try.

Scorers:

Auckland 27 (Lolagi Visinia, Piri Weeup, Sam Prattle, Luke Braid tries; Simon Hickey 2 con, pen) North Harbour 20 (James Parsons, Raymond Niuia tries; Jon Elrick 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 22-10