North Harbour upset Wellington in Capital

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Saturday, October 22, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

They will meet Otago in next week's final, their first since 1994, while they committed Wellington to another year in the Championship.

It was a thrilling contest with North Harbour gaining the benefit of better use of what possession that could gain.

Wing Tevita Li made up for two earlier mistakes to charge into the backline from a disintegrating North Harbour scrum to take a reverse pass from replacement halfback Chris Smylie and unzip Wellington's defence in a powerful run before passing to replacement Daniel Hilton-Jones to snatch a 37-30 lead with nine minutes remaining.

Superb leadership from captain and lock Chris Vui set the standard for his side with some commanding play with the ball in hand while in the backline centre Matt Vaega was a constant menace who had the better of a tight contest with Wellington's Matt Proctor.

Wellington skipper Brad Shields attempted to lift his side with some determined running while among the backline wing Wes Goosen made some devastating early breaks but he was well contained in the second half. Instead, it was forward power, especially on the lineout drive that got Wellington back into the game.

North Harbour made an electric start, rocking Wellington with the intent of their assault from the outset and they had immediate reward as first five-eighths Bryn Gatland landed a penalty goal.

As Wellington looked to get into the game, they ran the ball but lock Mark Reddish threw a pass to unoccupied territory and Vaega was onto it and broke downfield and in-passed to Li who had a clear run to the line for the try.

Wellington's desperation to get back into the contest resulted in an amazing period of thrust and counter-thrust. Neither sought the sideline with their kicks and breaks were blocked and kicks contested before an insertion from centre Matt Proctor sweeping at fullback produced the impetus his side needed with a corkscrewing run.

From the breakdown the ball was cleared to first five-eighths Jackson Garden-Bachop and he lobbed a kick to the corner where hooker Leni Apisai was favoured by the bounce of the ball to score.

After the first scrum of the game 23 minutes into the contest, Wellington resorted to employing its forward drive and it was a midfield rolling maul that traversed an amazing 45m that set up Wellington's next try-scoring chance. As the ball was moved from the maul, second five-eighths Shaun Treeby secured a half-gap, got his hands through and fed fullback Jason Woodward.

He made ground deep into the 22m area and when tackled he flicked the ball inside where Goosen had moved to take the ball and score.

Wellington looked to have gained control but a slip-up just before half-time allowed Vaega to pounce onto loose ball on the sideline. The momentum switched to North Harbour and halfback Bryn Hall chipped a ball into the box and the ball could only be carried back over the line in defence.

Wellington poured the power on at the five-metre scrum but Hall cleared it and after a ruck it was flanker Glen Preston who had the body position to drive over the line to score. And with Gatland adding the conversion for 101 points for the season, North Harbour had the half-time lead 20-18.

They took a minute of the second half to extend that. It came after they moved the ball and Duffie kicked into the 22m area for the Wellington cover to take the ball into touch. Then from the lineout North Harbour unleashed their own rolling maul for prop Nic Mayhew to drive over for the try.

Wellington battled to get back in the contest and their chance was provided by flanker Vaea Fifita who blasted his way through the defence to get up to the goal-line and from the ruck a backhand flick from Garden-Bachop on the blindside provided wing Joe Hill with enough goal-line in sight to score in the corner in the 58th minute.

Li had two chances to secure what could have been the match-winning advantage. On the first he threw off Hill and made ground deep into Wellington's 22 only to pass to Wellington prop Chris Baumann and then moments later fullback Matt McGahan made a superb blindside break to give Li a chance on the outside, but Li dropped the ball.

That was costly after Wellington's replacement hooker Asafo Aumua was introduced from a penalty lineout which saw another lineout drive unleashed and it was Aumua who scored the try for Garden-Bachop to convert to draw the sides level with 14 minutes left.

There was a consolation last try for replacement halfback Sheridan Rangihuna after the fulltime siren had sounded.

Wellington 40 (Leni Apisai, Wes Goosen, Joe Hill, Asafo Aumua, Sheridan Rangihuna tries; Jackson Garden-Bachop 3 con, 2 pen ) North Harbour 37 (Tevita Li, Glen Preston, Nic Mayhew, Daniel Hilton-Jones tries; Bryn Gatland 4 con, 3 pen ). HT: 18-20