Harbour Win Ugly but Fans Still Delighted with Premiership Success

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 29: Shaun Stevenson of North Harbour makes a break during the round seven Mitre 10 Cup match between North Harbour and Hawke's Bay at QBE Stadium on September 29, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Even though head coach Tom Coventry used the term ‘ugly’ when describing his sides victory tonight, he was still happy with taking away the competition points. The 33-30 win over Hawke’s Bay was odds-on, yet came only through the boot of Bryn Gatland right at the end, that saw Harbour win ugly–yet still take the plaudits.

Lacking composure, in a sense of converting opportunities, and even the enthusiastic crowd on hand felt that the outcome was not secure, when the Magpies led at halftime; 13-17.

“We didn’t play well tonight. I thought Hawke’s Bay had one of their better performances of the year. Getting their senior players back, like Michael Allardice and Brent Webber, helped their cause,” was the reaction from Coventry post-game.

A no nonsense individual, he did not mince his words.Still wanting to probably digest the proceedings, on a night where he described his teams lack of composure ‘at times’ to be an issue. It was talked about before the Canterbury fixture–a loss at home–but it appears that Harbour rugby are not finding that perfect performance that ‘coaches are looking for’.

Harbour Win ‘Ugly’ but Fans Still Delighted With Premiership Success

The appraisal by Tom Coventry was spontaneous. From his view, the team should have performed better. But in reality, fans were still delighted by the Premiership success. Sitting so highly on the table, only shaded by Canterbury, the Harbour faithful saw it another way.

33-30 was ‘a belter’ of a game. The home side came out firing, with returning son Shaun Stevenson looking every bit the game changer. That began after 45 seconds, and he was at times challenging the visitors to hold him down.

Very nearly scoring on a number of occasions early, it was a Penalty Try that rewarded territorial advantage, that Harbour enjoyed throughout. Hawke’s Bay did gain territory, and would convert those chances; firstly through skipper Ash Dixon, who barged through some soft James Parsons defense.

And later, in a forward led push, Jason Long was helped over the line to take the initiative from Harbour. At 20-24, the game was balanced, before a technical foul to number eight Hapakuki Moala-Liavaa saw him spend ten minutes in the bin. It could well have cost the side the match, but gladly smart substitutions plugged the gaps.

Matt Duffie Brilliance Answers Fans Calls

The constant barracking from the stands of “come on Harbour” was needed at this time. The side were guilty of letting the ball bounce, and it might have been fielded by a hungry Hawke’s Bay.

Fortunately only giving up three points during the period reduced to 14 men, by which co-captain Matt Duffie thought that it was time to assert himself. Joining the line, Duffie zigged and zagged, and broke through the ‘Bays defense. He blitzed the cover defense and scored a game changing try, and inspired his men to rise up one more time.

His brilliance answered fans calls, and would have shown his coach that the complacency suffered in the second half to Canterbury was a ‘mere blip’. They held territory and stopped a Hawke’s Bay attack with good organization. The old days of leaking points may have ended, on a night where charity and good will were only afforded to the Tania Dalton Foundation special edition jersey.

Matt Duffie of North Harbour makes a break during the round seven Mitre 10 Cup match between North Harbour and Hawke’s Bay at QBE Stadium on September 29, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Once the scores had been levelled, it then became a battle of attrition. The side who flinched first was Hawke’s Bay, allowing Gatland position to fire in a penalty. But that was countered by Ihaia West. Only for minutes later, an infringement from the ‘Bay allowed Gatland to slot the winner.

North Harbour 33 – Tries: Penalty try, Shaun Stevenson, Matt Duffie; Conversions: Bryn Gatland (2); Penalties Gatland (4)

Hawke’s Bay 30 – Tries: Ash Dixon, Cardiff Vaega, Jason Long; Cons: Ihaia West (3); Pens: West (3).

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“We got over the line tonight. We put some points in the bank. And see if we can build a bit more on the first part of our season.” This view from Tom Coventry is of what the side must improve on. And possibly of some standards that have waned since the opening weeks of Mitre 10 Cup.

Because of that great start–to win five matches in a row–the side may have been guilty of looking too far ahead. Commentators have spoken too early of the playoffs, but Coventry knows that his side is ‘not the finished goods’ yet. Cautious of complacency, he will want his group to be more focused now, and to stay on task.

Harbour Win Ugly, But Still Look Like Contenders

As Matt Duffie crossed the line, he had put his hand up. Similar to how James Parsons did against Auckland, and as all leaders wish to. They want their team to follow examples, and Bryn Gatland has been Mr Consistency in 2017.

From his front on defense, stopping much bigger opponents, and a variety of option taking, he is demonstrating many attributes. Harbour, as a partner of Super Rugby, have high hopes that players are taken into the franchise. And so Gatland is one name mentioned. The steady achiever, Gatland is not a dashing first-five like Beauden Barrett, but he is comparable.

Tonight that was compared against Ihaia West. The former Blues pivot, who has decided to head to the Hurricanes in 2018. So Gatland might have hoped to fill the boots–although, Super Rugby is as much about consistency, as it is in heart. So with a 100% success rate, Tom Coventry was glowing.

“For young Bryn Gatland, he’s deserves his chance to play Super Rugby, and I think he’ll be great for the Blues.”

Matches like tonight’s have in the past been hard for that Auckland franchise to win, yet even ‘winning ugly’ can be satisfactory. And when looking forward to the upcoming short-week turnaround during the next three matches, Coventry may just be overly critical.

“It looked to me like a tired display. Tired mentally, not physically, so we just need to respect the opposition more. I think we’ll be fine.” And those waiting for Harbour to fall flat will have to agree. If it hasn’t happened now, then quite possibly this team really are the genuine article in 2017.

Next Step: Tasman Makos, Wednesday October 4

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