For all the statements and publicity, the game is simple. And so was the Mitre 10 Cup opening night; treats for young and old, and a result for the North Harbour (Harbour Rugby) team in Week 1 of the competition.
North Harbour 21 – Tries: Dillon Hunt, Tevita Li; Conversion: Bryn Hall; Penalties: Bryn Gatland (3)
Northland 20 – Tries: Tom Robinson, Jono Kitto; Cons: Jack Debreczeni (2); Pens: Debreczeni (2)
A close call, and it might have upset the Mitre 10 Cup opening picks for some fans, as the Northland Taniwha proved tougher to beat than predicted. The local derby game was the opening game of both divisions of the Mitre 10 Cup; the Premiership – where Harbour play, and Northland play in the Championship.
So if the difference in divisions was supposed to be highlighted on the night, then nobody told the visitors. It was a stupendous effort, with a great display that only lacked more conversion of the opportunities which they grasped. Starting with some ‘vintage Ranger Danger’ (see highlight video).
The 21-20 scoreline was not the pleasing display that head coach of Harbour, Tom Coventry, had wished for. Still only weeks into their campaign, Last Word on Rugby walked down; like the fans were able to, on to the field to ask the coach a few questions.
Harbour less than Satisfied, but Competition points earned
It was hard not to guess that Coventry was less than impressed, but it was a satisfaction obviously in securing four valuable competition points, that will ease his frustration.
“We probably rushed a lot of our tactics inside the 22. To be fair, Northland were defensively pretty good. I think many of the ideas we had were right, it’s just the execution was not so good,” was the remark from harbour coach Tom Coventry.
True, the period when Harbour had a man advantage; after an yellow card, was when fans will question how dedicated this supposed ‘Super Rugby heavy’ squad appeared. Not many other teams would have in fact given away a try, and not scored any points themselves.
Still, their performance was satisfactory – decision making aside – they had a more composed appearance. If that can be improved on, then this could have been their ‘worst game’.
For Northland, it might have been their best game. A great start, and one that almost garnered a scalp of their southern neighbours. And even if the single point outcome favoured the big city boys, on the Mitre 10 Cup opening night, the boys from Whangarei did themselves proud. Young fans, and those long-term Northland fans will each be happy with Thursday night’s effort.
Mitre 10 Cup opening night; treats for young and old
The younger element opened the occasion, where an schoolboy’s final was scheduled. Two proud schools faced off; Westlake College v Takapuna College, with some very enthusiastic chanting and crowd support – all dressed in school colours and uniforms. It swelled the crowd, prior to the Mitre 10 Cup feature game, but it was a glorious example of the improvement in skills and team play of high school rugby in New Zealand.
Westlake College had to endure a tough opening half, at the mercy of a more accurate Takapuna College. They scored two tries, to just a single penalty, and at 3-15 it was looking to be a one-sided contest. But full credit to the Westlake group – a strong halftime talk from the coach gave them impetus to really ‘go for it’.
It was a treat for all ages too, as they achieved two tries of their own to raise the voices of their supporters. Takapuna had possibly ‘frozen in the headlights’. With so much prestige to gain though, it was up to Takapuna to score right at the death to win the game. The atmosphere was palpable, unfortunately [like the All Blacks in 2007, they used forward drives instead of going for the drop-goal match winner.
So honours were shared [under World Rugby rules, no extra time added]. The pride though, was exhibited from both the young players and school friends. As much as the delight of older rugby followers, who can all respect the effort over and a season – both teams performed a post-match haka, that was well received, and loudly applauded.
That match, plus the feature game involving Harbour v Northland showed that the ‘treats were shared’ by young and old. And like the Farah Palmer Cup and Heartland Championship, the Mitre 10 Cup Rugby opening night is just the start of two months of fantastic, NZ rugby.
Mitre 10 Cup Week 1 continues, with Tasman v Canterbury, and full ‘Super Saturday’ of matches, before the All Blacks cap off a big day of rugby. Two matches on Sunday close-out the first full round of Mitre 10 Cup rugby.
“Main photo credit”