Rugby: Swamp Foxes frustrate fast-starting Harbour

By Lindsay Knight

Ranfurly Shield
North Harbour 69 Thames Valley 0

Thames Valley coach Ross Cooper set his side two targets in last night's Ranfurly Shield challenge against North Harbour at Albany Stadium.

He wanted his men to restrict Harbour to less than 100 points and to do some attacking of their own and at least reach double figures.

So on that basis, even though Harbour won handsomely, as expected, Cooper possibly had more cause for satisfaction than his Harbour counterpart Wayne Pivac.

North Harbour enjoyed a splendid first spell to lead by 50 at the break but lost the plot and their pattern in the second.

The Swamp Foxes may have stayed on nil, never quite threatening the tryline despite plenty of effort, but they had little trouble, particularly in the second spell, in ensuring that Harbour got nowhere near three figures.

Thames Valley, indeed, could claim some small triumph in the second spell because for a great part of it, they had the edge on Harbour.

They would almost certainly have got on the board had they not refused to take five kickable shots at goal from penalties.

Instead they gained the admiration of a small crowd of no more than 2000 for what was a small piece of history - Harbour's first Ranfurly Shield defence.

The visitors won fans by electing to go for tries but, apart from one sprightly run down the left flank by wing Blair Rawlings, they never looked like breaching the staunch Harbour defence.

When lock Doug Fletcher and left wing Zar Lawrence scored tries early in the second spell to add to the 50-point romp Harbour had enjoyed in the first spell, it looked as if a century would be posted.

But Valley broke some of the Harbour rhythm and had such a territorial advantage, the hosts went scoreless for half an hour until near the end, when Lawrence scampered away for his second try.

In this period, a solid Thames Valley front row of Mark Verner, Ryan Tohaia and Hayden Rasmussen proved surprisingly competitive, once causing the Harbour scrum to collapse and on another occasion wheeling a scrum to win the feed.

That Harbour should lose some of their way in the second spell was perhaps not too surprising. Pivac fielded what was very much a team of novices, with seven of the starting XV playing their first game for the union, plus another four debutantes in Tua Saseve, Daniel Deveraux, Richard Mayhew and Sam Biddles coming off the bench in the second spell.

It was an impressive entry into first-class rugby for several of the newcomers. Halfback Luke Hamilton opened the scoring with a try after just five minutes and second-five Michael Harris, who last year was at Westlake Boys' High, finished with 24 points.

He scored a couple of tries and converted seven of the 11 tries. Lawrence and bullocking No 8 Nick Williams also had the distinction of a shield try-scoring double.

Wing Ken Pisi, one of three brothers in the Harbour backline, didn't get on the scoring sheet but helped set up Williams and Lawrence for their first tries.

While not always perfect, some of Harbour's first-half rugby was sublime.

North Harbour 69 (N. Williams 2, M. Harris 2, Z. Lawrence 2, J. Afoa, T. Pisi, G. Pisi, D. Fletcher, L Hamilton tries; Harris 7 cons) Thames Valley 0.

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