Match preview: Auckland vs. North Harbour


Thursday, October 13, 2005    Phortosport

While those statistics highlight the size of the challenge awaiting the visitors to Eden Park on Saturday night, the North Harbour side will cross the bridge full of confidence.

North Harbour scored 35 tries, three more than Auckland and the most by any side during the round-robin phase of the Air New Zealand NPC and they conceded 16 tries, only two more than Canterbury.

North Harbour coach Allan Pollock says his team’s first semifinal appearance since 2001 represents a huge opportunity for the players and the union. “It’s a great way to measure ourselves as a team and, if we have to play away, Eden Park is the best venue we could have. It’s practically a home game for us. We’ll have huge support in the crowd, the atmosphere will be fantastic, and we can put all of our pre-match systems in place as if it was a home game for us.”

Although North Harbour failed to make the semifinals last year, a large number of the current squad were involved in the side’s gripping 34-32 success at Eden Park, which was North Harbour’s fifth win in an NPC Battle of the Bridge. “It’s good that the guys have been there and won, so there’s no real intimidation factor about playing at Eden Park, but it doesn’t have much relevance other than that. Neither, to be honest, does our game earlier this year (which Auckland won),” Pollock says. “We didn’t play well that night. Auckland was better than us, but both teams have come a long way since then and I’m sure we will see a much more high-quality game in the semifinal.”

Auckland’s failed Shield challenge last weekend, where the side suffered just its second defeat of the campaign losing 27–12 to Canterbury, left its coach Pat Lam demanding greater urgency in possession and more creativity from his side. While last weekend’s match in Christchurch has cost Auckland the services of All Blacks hooker Derren Witcombe, Lam otherwise has a fully fit squad to choose from.

“The performance in Christchurch was disappointing, but fortunately we’d already done the hard work by then and earned ourselves a home semifinal, so we are not dwelling on that loss,” Lam says. “We need to show a bit more patience and use our possession better, while also hanging onto it a bit better than we did against Canterbury.”

Ball retention is also the mantra of North Harbour this week. Although the side enters the match without injury problems, Pollock wants to see far better ball control from his side than it exhibited during last Sunday’s win over Southland at Invercargill.

“Although we scored four tries, we made enough opportunities to get a few more, but couldn’t take them because we spilled far too much ball,” Pollock says. “With the calibre of the players Auckland has, they are arguably the most potent attacking side in the competition. Looking after possession and not allowing them quick turnovers is going to be crucial and we’ll be talking about that this week. If we turn it over as much as we did at Southland, we will be gift wrapping them the game.”

2005 Round robin match: Auckland 27 North Harbour 10 at Albany on 13 August
North Harbour headed into the 22nd Battle of the Bridge in the Air New Zealand NPC on the back of a promising pre-season, but they were out-played during a 17-point defeat. Although Auckland wasn’t always convincing either, it was in charge for most of the game, leading 13-3 at halftime, and finishing with a three try to one superiority


Auckland: Brent Ward, Doug Howlett, Mils Muliaina, Isa Nacewa, Tony Koonwaiyou, Tasesa Lavea, Steve Devine, Jerome Kaino, Daniel Braid, Justin Collins (captain), Ali Williams, Angus Macdonald, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu, Saimone Taumoepeau.
Reserves: John Fonokolafi, Nick White, Kurtis Haiu, Brad Mika, Taniela Moa, Ben Atiga, Sam Tuitupou/Joe Rokocoko.

North Harbour: George Pisi, Vili Waqaseduadua, Anthony Tuitavake, Rua Tipoki (captain), Zar Lawrence, Luke McAlister, Junior Poluleuligaga, Nick Williams, Tom Harding, Anthony Boric, Greg Rawlinson, Marty Veale, Mike Noble, Joe Ward, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Roger Dustow, Adrian Donald, Brent Wilson, Regan Tamihere, Ben Meyer, Joel Nasmith, Andrew Mailei.

Auckland v North Harbour, Auckland
Kick-off: Saturday at 7.35pm
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty)
TAB odds: Auckland $1.35, North Harbour $3.00