North Harbour work hard for fourth win

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Thursday, September 7, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Wing Tevita Li's 72-minute try, breaking along the left-hand touchline to beat the tackles of wing Nigel Ah Wong and fullback Luteru Laulala, and a second attempt by Ah Wong, carried his side out of the reach of the home side who had pushed them all the way.

The result was a triumph for North Harbour's tactical organization and calmness, especially after Counties Manukau got ahead 22-18 early in the second half.

An issue with their scrum hampered North Harbour but a readjustment in the second half saw the tables turned and that allowed the visitors to regain the control they had shown in the first half.

Impressive efforts up front by prop Chris Eves, hooker and skipper James Parsons and lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti laid the foundation, and they needed to because Counties Manukau prop Pauliasi Manu threatened to take control at one stage while flanker Fotu Lokotui and No.8 Sam Henwood were a menace in the loose.

North Harbour made the most of an early turnover created when Eves got his foot to a loose ball at the base of a ruck. That allowed North Harbour to build their phase play with Cowley-Tuioti featuring twice in the set-up before prop Sione Mafileo scored under the crossbar.

Quietly accumulating points through penalty goals, the first of which saw first five-eighths Bryn Gatland raise his 50th point of the competition and after he took a blow to this leg it was fullback Ben Volavola who landed four more penalty goals.

Pressure from the North Harbour defensive screen produced turnover ball that allowed them to punish Counties Manukau handling mistakes. That was backed by probing kicking from Gatland and Volavola and it seemed to have paid off until the third minute of injury time.

After a scrum was called for North Harbour right on the hooter, they were penalised and home skipper first five-eighths Stephen Donald kicked for touch. From the lineout Donald then weighted a perfect pass to flying centre Tim Nanai-Williams, whose perfect angle opened up the previously impenetrable defence and while he was stopped short of the line, good support from No.8 Sam Henwood kept the move alive and when a long ball was thrown across the defence, fullback Luteru Laulala scored.

Moments earlier, a superb steal by replacement wing Shaun Stevenson on Nanai-Williams opened up a chance for centre Matt Vaega but he was tripped just short of the line and while momentum carried him forward his knee slipped over the sideline.

That gave the home side momentum after the break when they pinned North Harbour in their own 22m area and twice they tried to clear ball only to miss touch and that allowed Ah Wong and fullback Laulala to run ball back where forwards Viliame Rarasea and Henwood drove hard at the line. Eventually the ball was released for the backs and again it was Nanai-Williams' speed on the break that created his try with the conversion claiming the lead for the first time.

However, North Harbour got themselves back downfield and gained two penalties which Volavola, who had moved to first five-eighths when Gatland left the field injured, goaled. They were also unlucky when a try was ruled out for Stevenson with a forward pass called.

Another chance was lost in the 68th minute when Stevenson ran infield and kicked to the opposite wing where wing Mark Talea broke the defence only to have his pass fail to find its mark with the supporting player Daniel Hilton-Jones.

Scorers: Counties Manukau 18 (Luteru Laulala, Tim Nanai-Williams tries; Laulala con, 2 pen ) North Harbour 27 (Sione Mafileo, Tevita Li tries; Bryn Gatland con, pen; Ben Volavola 4 pen). HT: 11-16


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