Rugby: Spirited visitors have no answer

By Lindsay Knight

North Harbour 99 Horowhenua-Kapiti 6

Other than a brief reign back in the 1920s when they were part of the Manawhenua union, Horowhenua-Kapiti's only Ranfurly Shield glory was the unveiling in 1993 of the precocious talents of a teenaged Carlos Spencer.

Fortunes were never going to change in yesterday's challenge against North Harbour in Albany. Nor was there much likelihood of one like Spencer being found in the present Horowhenua-Kapiti side.

As expected, Harbour over-ran the challengers, as, of course, a union from the provincial premiership should do against one which battles even in the Heartlands competition.

Harbour scored 17 tries, and only some average goalkicking, with just seven conversions landed, stopped the scoreboard exceeding three figures. But, if outclassed, Horowhenua-Kapiti usually played with spirit, with the best example a brave covering tackle by centre James Ross which saved, if only momentarily, another Harbour try.

There was further stout-hearted defence which foiled All Black lock Greg Rawlinson in two charges at the line late in the first spell, keeping the score at the break to 36-3.

Horowhenua also achieved something Thames Valley couldn't manage in their challenge a fortnight ago.

They at least got on the board with two penalties from first five-eighths Dion Nepia.

Captain Hadley Gardner appeared to enter the spirit of what was really a frolic when in the first spell he opted for a set piece rather than take an easy shot at goal. But he could scarcely be blamed when Horowhuenua-Kapiti secured two more kickable penalties, which Nepia duly landed from 35m and then in the second spell from 32m.

Against the tall timber in the Harbour lineout in Rawlinson, Ryan Wilson and Antony Boric and a much heavier scrum, Horowhenua were forced to exist on scraps. They were handicapped, too, against the pace and many dazzling attackers in the Harbour backline.

At times Harbour backs, the Pisi brothers, George and Tusi, Anthony Tuitavake and Viliame Waqaseduadua mesmerised their Horowhenua opposites with their ability to launch counter-attacks.

Some of the younger Harbour players took most of the plaudits. Jack McPhee, usually a five-eighths in club rugby, raced away for three tries and helped set up a try for Wilson who bolted 40m for the line. McPhee's day was spoiled only by his goalkicking lapses with just six conversions for a personal tally of 27.

Loose forwards Tom Chamberlain and Chris Smith came on as second-spell replacements and each landed two tries, Smith from his first touch in his first-class debut. Wilson, Tusi Pisi and Waqaseduadua were others with a try-scoring double.

It was little more than a practice run for Harbour and the big challenges lie ahead in the upcoming Air New Zealand Cup, when it might hoped there will be more crowd support than the 2000 or so who were there yesterday.

It would be difficult to be too pinpricking about the performance, especially when backs and forwards combined in many sweeping attacks. But there were a number of inaccuracies, crooked throws to the lineouts and forward passes mainly.

Halfback Luke Hamilton, after a lively start, was lost early to what looked to be a serious leg injury.

North Harbour 99 (J McPhee 3, V Waqaseduadua 2, R Wilson 2, T Pisi 2, T Chamberlain 2, C Smith 2, M Harris, J Afoa, G Pisi, N Williams, tries, McPhee 6, Harris conversions) Horowhenua-Kapiti 6 (D Nepia 2 pen). HT: 36-3.

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