New Zealand Cup
Harbour swamp Counties
October 4, 2008
North Harbour's Chris Smylie gets feeds his backline
© Getty Images
North Harbour farewelled coach Wayne Pivac in appropriate style today, reprising their reputation as New Zealand rugby's enigmatic entertainers with a free-wheeling 57-28 win over Counties-Manukau in an Air NZ Cup clash at Mt Smart Stadium.
Having squandered a 14-point lead in first half injury time Pivac may have had visions of Counties pushing on as Northland did after erasing an identical deficit in Whangarei two rounds ago. But Harbour swiftly regrouped, three tries in six minutes early in the second spell setting the tone for a sublime 43-point barrage that ended with the Steelers banking their own four-try bonus point in the dying stages.
The outcome of this 10th round clash had no bearing on the quarterfinals -- but at least it served as a source of satisfaction for Pivac who ended a frustrating two-season tenure on a mild high. Captain Jimmy Gopperth also marked news of his permanent move from Wellington with a 27-point haul -- the highest individual tally in this year's competition.
Gopperth, on trial for the Blues No 10 jersey, scored a brace, had a hand in at least one other of Harbour's eight five-pointers and missed just one of nine attempts at goal -- the sideline conversion of his second try. The All Black selectors, meanwhile, would also have taken comfort from Anthony Tuitavake's return from a nasty cheekbone injury sustained when playing against Samoa last month.
Slotting in at second five-eighth to partner his younger brother Nafi in midfield, the All Blacks utility was a dominant force in broken play, and more importantly emerged unscathed. Tuitavake scored two tries, including a 65-metre break that bamboozled three defenders to keep pace with his sibling, who also recorded a double as Harbour embarked on their second half scoring spree.
The Steelers had fought back impressively to match James Afoa's intercept and Anthony Boric's powerful close range surge as Sherwin Stowers backed up fellow wing Lelia Masaga's breakout before popular 130kg prop Tauefe Palelei proved unstoppable close to the line to level the contest. The momentum shift was only fleeting though as Anthony Tuitavake waltzed through a scrambling Counties defence following a Gopperth line break then barely a minute later the pivot grabbed a kind bounce to cross untouched.
Rudi Wulf's quick thinking then enabled Nafi Tuitavake to score his first when his quick lineout after he bundled Koiatu Koiatu into touch 10-metres out from the Counties line caught the home side unawares. New Zealand sevens captain and Steelers openside DJ Forbes arguably iced the team try of the match to temporarily stymie Harbour's flow in the 53rd minute after Tasesa Lavea handled twice in a multi-faceted interchange between backs and forwards.
But that was Counties' lot until Masaga collected his own chip kick to score just his first try of the competition three minutes from time. North Harbour provisionally improved to 10th while Counties will finish 13th, ahead of wooden spooners Manawatu.
Result from the 10th round Air NZ Cup rugby clash played between Counties-Manukau and North Harbour at Mt Smart Stadium here today:-
North Harbour 57 (Nafi Tuitavake 2, Anthony Tuitavake 2, Jimmy Gopperth 2, James Afoa, Anthony Boric tries; Jimmy Gopperth 7 con pen) Counties-Manukau 28 (Sherwin Stowers, Tauefe Palelei, DJ Forbes, Lelia Masaga tries; Dean Cummins 3 con, Koiatu Koiatu con)