North Harbour Rugby is the Winner on a Sunny Afternoon

If you have read many of my articles on Grassroots Rugby, the theme is common. The game of rugby brings spectators closer to the game, engaging their passion and loyalty that many other similar ‘ball sports’ can hold.  With that, comes mutual benefits–North Harbour fans got to see their team perform, and when the conditions are right ‘Rugby is the winner on a sunny afternoon’.

Harbour Rugby (as they prefer to be named) were scheduled to play Manawatu in the Mitre 10 Cup. After 30 years, the union have built in a good tradition on the North Shore of Auckland. Playing in the lower Championship division, their fans took advantage of the favourable conditions.

Played on an early spring day, little wind and a blazing sun–perfect rugby watching conditions.

Rugby the winner

The crowd were also provided with a quality curtain raiser game. So often a school’s First XV or even Club rugby match, today the fans saw the Women’s Provincial Championship teams play.

HARBOUR HIBISCUS 29 MANAWATU CYCLONES 29

An innovative and valuable addition to the schedule, the female rugby players are just as professional as their male counterparts. With such an important competition, points in the Farah Palmer Cup were on the line, and each team played top-class rugby.

Taking the lead at halftime through a couple of Seleica Winiata tries, the Cyclones had the better first 40 minutes leading 3-22.

The Hibiscus side stormed back, taking advantage of good territory, Chelsea Alley showing good control of the match tempo (and kicking the goals today). Harbour crossed the line three times, only to be held back when Manawatu scored late in the game. Quite a contentious decision–the TMO making a clutch call–the match went right to the wire.

And full credit to each side, for attempting to confirm the final result by playing to the final whistle. The new laws that a game cannot end on a penalty have shown throughout Super Rugby, and the domestic competition too.

The Main Attraction

A healthy crowd had built up, most here to enjoy the ‘footy’ while others supported family and friends. The community atmosphere in a smaller ground is where the appreciation of how important a role that sport plays can be seen clearest.

Visiting supporters were well presented with green buckets on their heads. It is a Manawatu custom, and one that is recognizable for that team across the national provincial championship.

The match lived up to the billing, with a good number of attacking plays from each side. After two minutes, Matt Duffy had scored in the right hand corner–two minutes later, Manawatu answered. Perfect conditions for rugby, a sunny afternoon.

Beside me, a fellow rugby fan mentioned that players enjoy the sun on their backs and the crowd can plan their day around the match. It has the potential to almost be the focus for families, and there is still time to get home and prepare the family meal. That is the appeal.

Mitre 10 Cup: HARBOUR 29 MANAWATU 25

The second half was more even, as the teams pushed into the others territory. Penalties awarded were taken, with Bryn Gatland scoring four in the half, that was the ultimate difference. Somewhat different from the ‘tryfest’ fans would have wanted, but with a positive result, rugby is the winner on a sunny afternoon.

The vanquished Manawatu team were left to lick there wounds, but had acquired a consolation bonus point. The home side had achieved a good win, which puts them closer to the top of the Championship table. They have a chance to influence their own destiny, and the fans left happy.

That is the key. A good outcome for both players and spectators. The conditions only added to the satisfaction of the home side. Even the losing side would have enjoyed the occasion–daytime rugby, no major injuries and they can ‘fight on another day’.

SANZAAR should consider Super Rugby schedule

Fans now return home, looking forward to the next 2:35pm match. And while the Super Rugby calendar does not usually allow for such schedules (due to the International market) SANZAAR should consider this level of crowd engagement on Saturday. Wholly satisfied, fan reaction and returning patronage are often more critical KPI that decision makers must consider. The smiles on the faces of key stakeholders [sometimes] are more important rather than amicable International broadcasting times.

“Rugby is the winner on a sunny afternoon”

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