Northland spirit pays big dividend

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Sunday, August 20, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

While it was the razzle-dazzle of their attacking backs that produced the points, it was the defensive commitment in 10 hectic last minutes that ultimately produced the win and demonstrated the revived attitude.

Five minutes out Bay of Plenty first five-eighths Mike Delany was held up in goal and a superb pressure scrum was won by the home team to secure a penalty and then as Bay of Plenty looked at a last gasp assault, another penalty was conceded and Northland held on.

Down 7-23 at half-time, Northland dominated second half possession and position to create their chances.

A key moment came from tap penalty just out from their own line by replacement five-eighths Peter Breen freed the Northland danger man and talisman Rene Ranger and he thrilled the home crowd with a stunning 60m run down the grandstand touchline to take play into the Bay of Plenty 22m area.

Replacement halfback Malcolm MacLeod wasn't able to link with support and the desperate Bay side scrambled to turn the ball over and get the ball to touch. Northland conceded the lineout but regained the ball at the breakdown. Second five-eighths Tamati Tua raced into space in midfield and when he was tackled the ball was cleared from the ruck and fullback Matt Wright took advantage of a break in the home defence to race around behind the posts to score.

As if that wasn't enough, Northland maintained their dominance of possession and built on hard driving play from locks Tim Bond and replacement Ropate Rinakama, flanker Matt Matich and running danger provided by wing Solomon Alaimalo.

It was from Alaimalo's break that Ranger's long pass provided replacement wing Jone Macalai with the space to put his speed to use to score wide out for Northland to claim the lead for the first time after 66 minutes.

Earlier, Bay of Plenty could not have asked for a better start, applying pressure from the kick-off and putting forward power to use in a series of pick-and-goes on the Northland line before lock Tom Franklin found the gap to drive over to score.

They continued to join possession dominance and were constantly probing, especially through fullback Chase Tiatia and wing and New Zealand Sevens regular Joe Webber, without being able to break down the home defence until a piece of individual class from right wing Monty Ioane in the 30th minute.

From a breakdown he took the ball at the base, feinted inside defender and flanker Kara Pryor and then running around him and putting his speed to use to score beneath the crossbar. After Delany's earlier penalty goal Bay of Plenty claimed a 17-0 lead.

That seemed to break the home side's attacking malaise and a break from first five-eighths Dan Hawkins, supported by Kara Pryor and wing Jordan Hyland, set up a chance on the Bay of Plenty goal-line where prop Howard Sililoto converted the opportunity with his side's first try in the 35th minute.

Delany rounded a good first half goal-kicking effort by landing a third penalty goal in the third minute of injury time to secure a 23-7 lead.

Northland created a good chance in the second minute of the second half when prop Namatahi Waa drove over the line only to be ruled to have knocked the ball on.

More opportunities to pressure Bay of Plenty came from penalty kicks to the corner and in the 51st minute, after a fine lineout take by replacement loose forward Jack Ram, good build-up work saw Ram blast his way over the line for the try to begin the home team's revival.

Scorers: Northland 28 (Howard Sililoto, Jack Ram, Matt Wright, Jone Macilai tries; Dan Hawkins 2 con; Peter Breen 2 con) Bay of Plenty 23 (Tom Franklin, Monty Ioane tries; Mike Delany 2 con, 3 pen). HT: 7-23