North Harbour bury years of hurt against Auckland

Getty Images

Sunday, September 3, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It was their first win over in their battles of the bridge since their 16-14 win on Eden Park in 2009, a record total for North Harbour against Auckland surpassing the 35 they scored in 1994 and breaking the record differential of 44 points set by Auckland in their 71-27 win in 1995.
Impressive as the win was, it was achieved against an Auckland team that continued to play well below its capabilities and potential. Auckland can rarely have had such a poor start to the national provincial championship. They lacked direction, hunger and execution.

There can have been few more graphic demonstrations of that than the 67th minute intercept try scored by North Harbour hooker and captain James Parsons. He picked off an easy pass and ran 45m, a fine reward for years of toil in the trenches through the hard times with the side.

North Harbour were far more confident in everything they did, from the outset.

A first-minute Auckland mistake, kicking the ball out on the full, resulted in North Harbour twice moving the ball through the backline. Long passes opened up chances on the right flank where wing Matt Duffie made a telling break, passing inside to centre Matt Vaega, one of the outstanding North Harbour performers on the day. He in turn flicked a backhand off-load to supporting fullback Shaun Stevenson who scored.

Stevenson provided another crucial play for North Harbour when at first receiver and landing a long kick to bounce into touch in the Auckland 22m area. Auckland failed to control the lineout, not for the only time in the first half and North Harbour were able to get the ball back, and work it forward through its big men.

When, after several phases, the ball was flicked on by loosehead prop Chris Eves, it found Vaega with support on both sides, and only one defender. It went outwards and Duffie made no mistake in extending the lead.

North Harbour were unlucky in the 34th minute when a quick throw-in was taken and referee Glen Jackson ruled a forward pass occurred in the movement but in the resulting scrum North Harbour were awarded a penalty to gain some payback.

Auckland finished the first half with their most adventurous effort to move the ball but the home defence held. It was a torrid half for Auckland, their defence was exposed with too many players running out of line creating chances for North Harbour to get behind them. The Auckland scrum was also given a severe working over with North Harbour able to disrupt them several times, seemingly at ease.

Employing quick throw-ins to good effect North Harbour took the attack to Auckland for early reward in the second half, causing a mistake between second five-eighths George Moala and replacement TJ Faiane. On hand was Vaeaga to pick up the unsecured ball and create a ruck.

Halfback Bryn Hall cleverly assessed the situation and put in a box kick which rolled nicely for Stevenson who had started well behind the kicker but who gained the bounce to score his second try of the afternoon.

That seemed to finally kick-start the Auckland effort and strong running took play into the North Harbour 22m area where Auckland utilized a penalty to get their backline going, drawing in the home defence and creating the chance which Moala took to atone for the earlier mistake.

Play was held up for an extended period after 55 minutes when Auckland first five-eighths Daniel Bowden had to be taken from the field after being injured attempting a head-on tackle on Tevita Li.

Li, and Vaega, were in the action in the 62nd minute after North Harbour won a ruck turnover and Hall got the ball to Vaega on the blindside who fed Li in for the bonus point try.

To cap the day more untidy Auckland play saw the ball returned by North Harbour with Li using his pace to break brittle defence and feed replacement Ben Volavola in for the record-breaking try.

Scorers: North Harbour 57 ( Shaun Stevenson 2, Matt Duffie, Tevita Li 2, James Parsons. Ben Volavola tries; Bryn Gatland 5 con, 4 pen ) Auckland 10 (George Moala tries; Jono Hickey con, pen). HT: 18-3